By JAMES BELL
The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Ellis County, but with an effective vaccine available Health Services Director Jason Kennedy said there is little cause for local concern.
"Yes, it is in Ellis County," Kennedy said. "We do currently have one case as credited by the state."
But the work needed to identify variants in positive COVID-19 tests occurs in only about one in ten tests, so the number could potentially be higher, he said.
"We do believe that the Delta variant is probably the primary COVID-19 that we have in Ellis County," Kennedy said.
But so far, there has been no impact seen due to the variant.
"It doesn't seem to be leading to any increased hospitalizations over and above what the standard COVID-19 did," Kennedy said. "It doesn't seem to be leading to any increased mortality above and beyond what COVID-19 (did.)
"Actually, what we are seeing is maybe reduced hospitalizations or reduced mortality from the Delta variant, likely due to vaccines."
Three vaccines have been developed and are all readily available in Hays and Kennedy said they are all highly effective against the COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
"It really doesn't matter which of the three vaccines you get," he said. "Some of them are shown to be slightly more effective, some of them are shown to be slightly less effective, but they are all effective.
"And what we are finding, even with the Delta variant - as with COVID-19 - is that the vaccinated people do not seem to be getting hospitalized, and they are not dying, even if they get COVID-19.
"Ninety-nine point five percent - 99.5, that's a big number - percent of COVID deaths, right now are in the unvaccinated population. There is no way around that number."
He said cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people are also sporadic, and those cases are typically mild or asymptomatic.
"The vaccine does appear to be effective, and it is working," Kennedy said. "We have a tool. The only tool that is highly effective and will limit the overall impact of this pandemic is vaccination."
With the number of vaccines that have been given out across the globe, Kennedy said there is also overwhelming data showing they are safe.
"There are all kinds of statistics, but what we know about this vaccine is that it is overwhelmingly safe," he said. "The negative incidents with this vaccine are generally less than what we find with any other vaccine."
But the hesitancy remains, and ultimately he said the unvaccinated make up the majority of cases today.
"Right now, we are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated population," Kennedy said. "And that is just a simple fact. If you don't want to get COVID-19, or if you are fearful that you might get COVID-19, or you are fearful you might spread it to someone else, be vaccinated. Go get vaccinated."
While he said the vaccines are effective, he does not believe they should be made mandatory.
"It's a personal choice," Kennedy said. "It's your right to do that. It is your right not to do that."
But he hopes those choosing not to receive the vaccine will consider all of the potential impacts.
"The vast majority of COVID-19 impacts have just been social impacts," Kennedy said, including extend quarantines and lockdowns. "That's been the vast majority."
He said limiting those impacts, alongside the medical impacts, requires vaccinations.
"If you are vaccinated, and you are next to someone that is positive, you won't be quarantined," Kennedy said. "You will be able to go to work; you can continue to live your life. If you're vaccinated, even in an area that has mask mandates, almost all of them, if you are vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask. Right now, it is the way for us to continue forward."
He said that the pandemic would last longer without more vaccinations, and the push for mandates will continue.
And with attention toward the new variant and vaccination rates leveling off, stories of returning mandates and full hospitals may be easy to believe, but are untrue, Kennedy said.
"That, unfortunately, is an overdramatization of the events," he said. "The hospital has plenty of beds. The hospital has a great staff, the hospital has the tools to treat you if you get COVID-19, and you have tools to protect yourself if you don't want to get COVID-19."
And the return of restrictions is unlikely.
"Right now, there is no outlook for shutdowns in Ellis County," Kennedy said. "There is no outlook for any mandates in Ellis County. We will not close businesses. We will not mandate masks. We will not limit gathering sizes.
"The government will not fight the pandemic for you. It is your turn to fight your pandemic."