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Delta variant makes up 88% of new COVID cases in Oregon, expert says

The delta variant is spreading quickly among people who are not vaccinated.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The surging delta variant of COVID-19 makes up at least 88% of all cases in Oregon, according to Brian O’Roak, a co-leader of Oregon Health and Sciences University’s (OHSU) Genome Sequencing Center. The center is currently studying and tracing different variants of COVID-19 in the state. 

The delta variant is an descendant of the novel coronavirus first detected in Oregon 16 months ago. There is reason to fear it, especially if you are not vaccinated, said Dr. Paul Cieslak from the Oregon Health Authority.

“The bad news is for unvaccinated Oregonians, you're at even higher risk now than when the pandemic was raging a year ago,” Dr. Cieslak said. 

That’s because the delta variant spreads at least twice as fast as the original and appears to load up infected people with more of the virus, making victims sicker.

RELATED: 'Unbelievably frustrating': Oregon hospitals see rise in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients

All viruses evolve and change over time, which is how the delta variant came into the world, according to O’Roak with OHSU.

“Its genome is made up of a genetic material known as RNA. And copying that RNA is an error-prone process. The virus makes about one mistake every two weeks in copying its genetic code. And those mistakes accumulate over time,” he said.

The delta variant is the most successful mistake so far. Whatever changed during the copying process turbocharged the virus.

O'Roak and his colleagues study about 10% of all positive tests in Oregon to figure out which variant is most active. He said the delta variant has been wildly active.

RELATED: OHA: All Oregonians should wear a mask indoors as cases, hospitalizations rise

For the week of June 26 to July 3, the delta variant made up close to 33% of the cases sequenced in Oregon. The next week, it was 58%. And the week of July 11-17, it was 88%. 

The Oregon Health Authority reported that in June, 92% of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 were not vaccinated.

Dr. Cieslack said those who are protected have much better odds.

“The good news is that the studies have shown that the currently authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants including the delta variant,” said Dr. Cieslack.

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com