Delta plus is escalating a COVID spike in the U.K. Could it spell trouble for N.J.? – NJ.com

The variant is spreading in parts of Europe, leaving few clues as to what it will do next.

Experts are watching and waiting. Could it gain a foothold in New Jersey and the rest of the country?

Delta plus is the descendant of the highly contagious delta strain, which emerged in India in late 2020 and arrived in the U.S. in March. It has since become the predominant variant in the Garden State and across the globe.

Experts emphasize that delta plus poses only a low risk to New Jersey, as the strain has been found in just eight states so far (the Garden State is not among them). But the variant has been gaining traction in the United Kingdom, as COVID-19 cases once again surge in Europe.

Anything that happens in the U.K., we want to watch really closely, said Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Europe, after all, has reliably been the canary in the coal mine for the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. What has happened there has typically followed here.

But much about delta plus remains a mystery, with limited data coming from the U.K. Experts are unsure what to expect in the coming months.

Whether or not this is going to be one of the more common variants, whether its going to lead in transmission and in (the) number of cases we really arent there yet to know, said Stephanie Silvera, an infectious disease expert and professor at Montclair State University. But the health agencies, again, both the U.S. and internationally, are trying to look at whats happening and how it behaves.

Delta plus is causing a rise in cases in the U.K. It could be more transmissible than the original delta strain which is already highly contagious but there is still some debate. Experts say it doesnt seem to be causing a higher rate of hospitalization or death, and that COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against it.

In New Jersey, daily COVID-19 case statistics continue to drop. People are gathering, shedding masks. Life is starting to return to normal, thanks to high vaccination rates. The fear among health officials is a variant will come along and render vaccines less effective. The impact would be severe, likely causing a spike in infections, breakthrough cases, and in a near-worst case scenario, another lockdown.

Whats going to be really interesting coming out of England: Are they seeing more and more reinfections or breakthrough infections? Cennimo said. That is something that I would want to closely monitor. Because at that point, now were concerned.

In the U.K., delta plus accounts for 11% of new COVID-19 infections, according to health officials. And again, coronavirus activity in the U.K. has proven to be an early warning system for the U.S. The alpha variant (B.1.1.7 aka the U.K. variant) emerged in Southeast England in September 2020 and quickly took the country by storm. It wasnt long before it gained a foothold in the U.S., becoming the dominant strain by spring. That is, until the original delta variant emerged and supplanted it.

For the U.S. and New Jersey, delta plus remains only a concern, but with the potential to develop into a major threat. State health officials recently reassured the public that the Garden State is currently at little risk.

We havent really seen (delta plus) at all in New Jersey, much less in the United States, state epidemiologist Christina Tan said Monday at Gov. Phil Murphys weekly coronavirus briefing.

Obviously, the CDC continues to monitor the variant activity, she added. But for now, (it) does not seem to be an issue quite yet, but it is being monitored.

Just because the variant is spreading in the U.K. doesnt guarantee that itll end up gaining traction here. But as society continues to open up including Americas borders it could present a vulnerability, especially as the nation heads into the winter and the holiday season.

The other aspect thats playing against us is the opening of the borders, said Dr. Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for translational medicine and science at Rutgers University. As Canada opens, and as were seeing more of an influx from Europe because international flights are going to be picking up, especially around the holidays, a vaccine card may not tell the whole tale.

But its possible delta plus turns out to be a dud, like other variants. It happened with eta, iota and kappa all strains of concern that never gained traction.

We thought that they might have the potential to become the dominant strain, Silvera said, and then they never reached more than 3% of the population. And so they petered out.

Will the same hold for delta plus? Experts will be watching England closely.

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Spencer Kent may be reached at skent@njadvancemedia.com.

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Delta plus is escalating a COVID spike in the U.K. Could it spell trouble for N.J.? - NJ.com

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