TRAVERSE CITY — The highly-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Grand Traverse County for the first time.

The county resident was tested July 11 and the disease has likely already been transmitted to others in the county, said Dr. Michael Collins, health director for the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

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The county has already seen an increase in cases in the last couple of weeks and it is suspected that the Delta variant is at least partly responsible for that increase, he said.

“This just adds proof to our assumption,” Collins said.

In June the county was seeing an average of one new case per day, he said. Those numbers are now up to four new cases per day.

Because of the low number of cases and the high number of those vaccinated in the county, which at 69 percent is closing in on the goal of 70 percent to reach herd immunity, Collins said people might not be as careful as they had been.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask indoors, it may be a good idea to do so now, Collins said.

“For an unvaccinated person it’s especially time to be responsible,” he said.

The high vaccination rate may also protect the area from a surge, but if there is one, Munson Healthcare infrastructure is already in place.

“Munson right now is not overwhelmed and we’re hoping it stays that way, but we’re certainly prepared if things get as bad as they were.”

The GTCHD was notified by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services State Laboratory of the presence of the Delta variant in a positive test after having been identified through routine surveillance of test samples, according to information from the department.

The variant is now the dominant strain in the U.S. and accounts for 83 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the country, the CDC said on Tuesday. That’s up from 51 percent two weeks ago.

Health departments and the CDC continue to urge people to get the vaccine, as the disease is now mostly seen among those who have not been vaccinated. About 97 percent of hospitalizations across the country are among the unvaccinated, the CDC reported, with 99.5 percent of deaths among the unvaccinated, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

All three vaccines have proven to be highly effective against the Delta variant and others. Recent news reports have questioned the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the strain, but Collins said the study they cite is very preliminary.

While vaccines are effective, they are not 100 percent, he said.

“Those 5 percent or so who carry the virus even though they were vaccinated is still significant,” Collins said. “This is a call to concern.”

While it is still possible for vaccinated people to get COVID-19, it will reduce their risk of getting seriously ill.

The GTCHD had been giving out just the Pfizer and J&J vaccines, but has now added Moderna to its offerings.

Emmy Schumacher, public information officer, said several people who visited the tent set up at the National Cherry Festival were asking for the Moderna vaccine, as they had gotten their first dose and missed their second.

Within a couple of days the health department was able to get the Moderna vaccine and accommodate those people, she said.

Collins said giving one brand of vaccine for a first dose and another for a second dose is not recommended as it hasn’t been tested.

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