Q&A – Are COVID-19's Variants More Dangerous Or Simply More Contagious?

Covid-19 Delta Variant concept with graphics

Photo: Getty Images

Today’s entry: Is it just me or does it seem like with every new strain of the virus people are only discussing if it spreads faster and if it avoids the vaccines, not if it’s less deadly?

Bottom Line: You’ve brought up a good point and specifically with the way you’ve asked your question. There are two key distinctions when addressing how “deadly” any strain of COVID-19 may be. The first is the rate of spread and the other is the impact of each strain.

According to CDC data, the average person who contracted the original strain of COVID-19 infected 2.5 people. By the time the Alpha variant was known that’d risen to 3.5 people. As for Delta, we’re up to an estimated four people. So, there’s no doubt that the variants which have had the biggest impact on the United States and Florida specifically, have been more contagious which explains why a year and a half into the pandemic, August was the worst month for us yet. 

On the other side of the coin, you have outcomes. On December 15th, at the time of the rollout of the vaccines, the death rate for those who tested positive for COVID-19 was 2.96%. The Delta variant was added as a “variant of concern” by the CDC on June 15th. On June 15th, the death rate for those who tested positive for COVID-19 was 2.11%. In August, over 90% of hospitalizations and subsequent deaths were a result of Delta. As of yesterday, the COVID death rate stands at 2.08%. 

So yeah, overall outcomes for those who’ve tested positive for the virus have continued to steadily improve throughout the year, including with the more contagious variants. Based on that information, there’s no hard evidence the variants have proven more deadly, in fact, there's a 30% decline in death rate most recently as compared to the original strain.

Now some of this is likely accounted for with greater spread among younger demographics with the variants, in addition to breakthrough cases for the previously vaccinated that often lead to less severe cases. Regardless, your point remains. The variants haven’t proven to be more deadly than the original strain for those who’ve contracted them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t more deadly. 

Putting the whole ball of wax together, since the advent of COVID-19 variants there has been a 30% decline in death rate and 60% increase in spread. So, the net-net of it is that the variants have been less likely to be deadly for those who’ve contracted them while being far deadlier overall because the pervasiveness of spread has been double the rate of the decline in death rate. 

The better news is that all current trends are improving quickly for COVID-19 and all of its variants in our state. 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio 

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