Local public health officials say there is still significant cause for concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in Lyon County, even if many in the community don’t want to hear it.
Lyon County Public Health reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 and seven new recoveries on Friday, bringing the county’s total active case count to 42, six of which are breakthrough cases.
Public health staff are concerned by how quickly new positives are coming in and the rate at which they are proving to be Alpha or Delta variant cases. Variants can only be identified if a sample is sent to the state for genomic sequencing, and only a handful of samples are selected for that kind of testing.
According to LCPH emergency preparedness director Jennifer Millbern, of the 105 samples that Lyon County has had sequenced dating back to Sept. 2020 — before the arrival of the Alpha and Delta variants — 43% have come back as a variant of concern. Twenty-seven were Alpha variant cases and 18 were Delta variant cases.
In fact, the last time a Lyon County sample was genomically sequenced and came back as something other than a variant of concern was July 1. As of Friday, LCPH had diagnosed 11 new Delta variant cases in the previous seven days.
“If we’re talking about a variant of concern, it has been labeled that way because something about its mutation either makes it more transmissible, it makes it more severe, it makes people that contract it have more severe disease or it can maybe not be as responsive to our treatments or our vaccines,” Millbern said. “ … The two variants that we have diagnosed in Lyon County — both the Alpha variant and the Delta variant — what makes them concerning is they have mutations that make the virus more contagious, so it spreads more easily from person to person and it can cause community spread at a more rapid rate.”
While a variant may be less responsive to a vaccine, Millbern clarified that the COVID-19 is not suddenly useless. She said that a vaccine’s job isn’t to prevent a virus from getting into someone’s body, but rather it prepares someone’s body to fight back against the effects of the virus.
The fact that the Alpha and Delta variants are less responsive to the vaccine doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work; it simply means that the variants are somewhat more capable of pushing through the body’s defenses.
“With the vaccine, even if you’re fully vaccinated, you can be challenged by the virus,” Millbern said. “What the vaccine’s job is is to help prevent you from having those very, very severe infections where you potentially will need intensive treatment in the form of the disease or will succumb to the disease and eventually die from it.”
So while breakthrough cases — meaning incidents in which a vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19 — are starting to appear more as the variants spread, Millbern said that vaccinated people still have a significant leg up on those who aren’t vaccinated.
“Even with the Delta variant, it is preventing those very severe infections and there’s almost no chance that a fully vaccinated person will become hospitalized or die,” she said. “We’re just not seeing that. Our hospitalized individuals and the people that are dying due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated individuals.”
Lyon County is one of more than 46% of counties nationwide that have been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having high transmission rates of COVID-19. New guidelines released by the CDC on Tuesday suggest that masks be worn indoors even by vaccinated people in those counties with high transmission rates.
Millbern said the reason that Lyon County was in such a position was a combination of the highly contagious variants and the county’s low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the number one most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent people in our community from becoming ill from this disease,” she said.
The new CDC guidelines were disappointing for many in the community who believe they have done what they were asked to do, such as wearing masks and receiving the vaccine, but who feel they are now being punished again because of other people’s choices.
“I understand. I’m feeling the same frustration,” Millbern said. “I personally felt like that myself and my family made the best decisions we could to protect our community and ourselves. We got vaccinated, we chose to wear masks when it was appropriate out in public. And it felt good during those months when we had low community spread and the Delta variant hadn’t established in our community, it felt good to take those masks of and do a more normal life participating in more normal activities.
“Unfortunately, our situation has changed and it’s changed drastically, so now we need to fit our actions to the situation and that’s putting masks back on in public.”