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Health experts encouraging vaccination to stop Delta variant from becoming widespread

The Delta variant is now a "variant of concern," meaning it could be more contagious and more dangerous than the primary strain of COVID-19.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now listed the Delta variant of COVID-19 as a "variant of concern," meaning there's evidence it's more contagious and more severe than the primary strain. 

Health officials in North Carolina and South Carolina say a handful of cases have been detected and it's more than likely already in the Charlotte area. 

“We have been seeing an increase in the number of cases that are associated with Delta virus in the United States," White House Vaccinations Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair said.

This variant was first discovered in India and its rapid spread in the United Kingdom delayed reopening plans there. The CDC said the Delta variant accounts for 10% of the cases in the country and that number tripled in the last few weeks.

As the country sprints toward July 4, with the goal of having 70% of the adult population at least partially vaccinated, there's a looming threat.

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“This variant is expected to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the coming weeks in the United States,” Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said. “About 10% of COVID-19 cases in the United States can be attributed to this variant right now, and that number is doubling every two weeks."

Health experts say it appears to be more contagious and can make people sicker, landing many in the hospital. A handful of cases have been detected in the Carolinas and that means it's probably closer to home, too.

“If you asked me if I believed it was here, I’d say yes,” said Dr. Meg Sullivan, Mecklenburg County's medical director. “We know that we still do have a lot of travel or ability to introduce variants into the community and have seen that in the limited amount of sequencing that we can do."

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So far, the good news seems that the three approved vaccines will protect recipients against this variant; however, as long as people resist getting the shots, there's an opportunity for the metrics to move in the wrong direction. 

“Areas in our community that have lower vaccination rates could see some outbreaks in the weeks ahead related to the Delta variant,” Priest said.

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South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has confirmed four cases in the state.

"These cases were discovered in the Midlands, Pee Dee and Lowcountry regions of the state,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, Public Health Director of SCDHEC, said.

The CDC estimates the Delta variant already makes up close to 1% of North Carolina's COVID-19 cases.

The latest data shows 41% of eligible North Carolinians are fully protected and 39% are in South Carolina. Experts hoping vaccination rates will gain some momentum so that the number of cases can stay down.

“We are optimistic about numbers they're going in the right direction, but we still have COVID in our community, we still have variants in our community that can easily spread,” Sullivan said. “For those people who are not vaccinated need to get vaccinated and, in the meantime, continue take all of the precautions to prevent further spread."

Health officials are trying to make getting a vaccine easier every day. There are clinics all over the county, especially in zip codes with lower vaccination rates, and they're available in doctors’ offices and pharmacies too.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram