Though people have shucked their masks and begun holding large gatherings once again in the Junction City area, all is not necessarily well according to Dr. Megan Seidl of Konza Prairie Community Health Center.

The COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread throughout Geary County. According to the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment, there have been 57 total cases of the highly-contagious variant as well as 17 cases of the alpha variant in Geary County.

According to Seidl, it’s a dangerous situation for people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

There have been a handful of breakthrough cases around the country — situations where people who have been fully-vaccinated against the virus have somehow contracted the delta variant. However, according to Seidl, the vaccine is nonetheless effective at preventing the spread of the disease and can lessen its impact on those who contract it.

“The vaccine is actually still very effective against the delta variant — especially when it comes to preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death,” she said. “We have the occasional case of a breakthrough case for a patient who has already been vaccinated and more often than not, they do not require hospitalization —the vast majority of the time — and the patients that we’re seeing in the hospitals and the patients that are dying of COVID right now are vastly more likely to be unvaccinated. So it’s unvaccinated patients in the hospitals right now and it’s unvaccinated patients who are dying right now. So it still realy points to the fact that we’re lucky that the delta variant — we still have protection with the vaccine. We’re lucky that the vaccine still provides the protection.”

According to Seidl, if people continue to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations and increase the vaccination rates in individual communities such as the ones in Geary County, the likelihood of new variants popping up — variants that might be immune to the vaccine altogether — decreases exponentially.

“We really need people to get on board and start getting vaccinated,” she said.

If a variant that is immune to the vaccine develops and starts to spread, it will push people back to square one as far as COVID-19 is concerned, whether anyone likes it or not, according to Seidl. Shutdowns, economic hardships and packed ICUs could return.

In December 2020, hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients to the point where people had to be sent outside to county for care. Deaths from the virus rose and local COVID-19 numbers skyrocketed. It’s not impossible this could happen again.

‘I’m very worried about that,” Seidl said of the possibility a vaccine-and-treatment-immune variant could pop up. “I can’t guess when it might happen, but if we have a large pool of unvaccinated individuals for the virus to jump to person to person, every time it replicates there’s a chance it becomes a stronger version of itself. We’ve really had a hard time in a lot of communities getting the vaccination rates and those communities unfortunately become just kind of a really good environment for viral replication and transmission and mutation. So that is a huge concern for me. And I know various entities are trying to get ahead of things and trying to prepare for vaccine research on the variants as they come up, but there’s only so much we can do to outrun it.”

According to Seidl, the best way to outsmart the virus is inoculation with a vaccine and to increase the vaccination rate.

“None of us want to be in a situation where we’re back at square one, but it’s a possibility,” she said.

Delta may not be the variant to put the world back where it was in March 2020, but variants continue to develop.

“Delta should serve as a strong warning about what can happen if we continue to let outbreaks go unchecked and we continue to have large communities that aren’t vaccinated,” Seidl said. “It may not be the delta variant that mutates to get around the vaccine. It may be another variant we haven’t heard of yet. But we already know that people are suffering from the delta variant. They’re more likely to end up in the hospital or end up in the ICU or dying of that variant and right now the vaccine is a tool we can use against it.”

Seidl said people should not be afraid to have the vaccine if they haven’t been vaccinated yet. Seidl asks people to continue to bear with healthcare workers.

“We have all been learning more and more about this since the very beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “With the new virus, we didn’t have the time to study it before it became a pandemic — to learn what the best mitigation factors were or what the ways to protect our communities were and so we learned about it along the way.”

Seidl recommends people continue to stick to outside gatherings, even if it’s just a gathering with family, and to wear masks indoors even if they’re fully vaccinated just to reduce the risk they might contract and/or spread it. She suggests people continue practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding large crowds. People who are unvaccinated especially need to be careful and should follow the same rules that have been in place since the start of the pandemic — social distancing, wearing masks and staying home as much as possible.

To receive a vaccine, people can contact their personal doctor’s office, pharmacy, the Geary County Health Department, Konza Prairie Community Health Center or Geary Community Hospital.

The vaccine is free to anyone who wants it at Konza, according to Seidl. People do not need insurance or to be a pre-established patient at Konza to receive the vaccine free-of-charge.

“The vaccine has been well-studied for a long time now,” she said. “It’s very safe despite the fact that we hear a lot about those very rare side-effects. It is still safe and it’s far safer than getting COVID — and it is still effective against the delta variant, as we speak. It still provides very strong protection, keeping people out of the hospital, keeping people from dying of COVID.”

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