COVID-19 Delta variant confirmed in La Crosse County

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A new COVID-19 variant, labeled Delta, has arrived in La Crosse, and local researchers say it is the most dangerous yet. 

The yellow dot on Gundersen Medical Foundation researcher Paraic Kenny’s chart marks the first but likely not the only local case. Kenny identified the strain the second week of June, shortly after Delta started showing up in other communities.

“There are 36 cases of Delta so far identified in Wisconsin,” says Kenny, director of the Kabara Cancer Research Institute in La Crosse and endowed chairman in precision oncology at the Gundersen foundation.  

The Delta variant is 60 percent more contagious than other COVID-19 strains and more severe, increasing a patient’s risk of hospitalization and death, the researchers say.

Dr. Joseph Poterucha says the COVID-19 vaccines are affective against Delta, but he worries not enough people are protected.

“This is the most dangerous point in the pandemic if you’re not vaccinated. We know it’s safe. Now is the time to get it, ” says Poterucha, who provides intensive/critical care services and pediatric hospital-based care at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse and Rochester.

Cases of coronavirus are down, but experts worry that could quickly change. They believe our best shot of keeping more yellow dots from appearing on Kenny’s chart is to roll up our sleeves.

“You can’t maintain a heightened state of vigilance forever, but for people with kids in the 12-plus age group, vaccines are very well tolerated, very effective and very safe,” says Kenny, who mainly studies cancer but also has been tracking COVID-19 spread through genome sequencing.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, on June 22nd, 52% of people in La Crosse County were fully vaccinated. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. Health experts say vaccinated people with underlying health issues are still susceptible to the Delta variant. They should continue to wear masks and social distance.