Delta Variant Begins To Sweep Nation, Local Health Leaders Remain Optimistic

Despite the significantly more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading across the United States, Lorain County currently has no detected Delta cases but has experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases. While widespread vaccine hesitancy and rising cases have caused uncertainty about the future, leaders in both the College and community remain optimistic.

Ohio ranks 22nd in the nation for vaccination rates, but Lorain County is above the state average of 48.68 percent with 52.61 percent of people having received at least one dose. Lorain County Public Health Commissioner Dave Covell says that there is still a lot of work to be done in the country but celebrates the success Lorain County has seen thus far. 

“You know, we’re doing quite a bit of work in the hard-to-reach populations,” Covell said. “So focusing on our Hispanic population that was a little lower [in COVID-19 vaccination rates] and some of our ZIP code areas that are a little lower — we’re doing special efforts.”

On Wednesday night, the County held a classic rock event called “Vaxxin’ on the River,” which raised awareness for COVID-19 vaccinations and gave residents an opportunity to receive their shots. Admission to the event was free for those with the vaccine or who received one there. 

There are also signs for optimism at the College. One of the groups impacted most by the pandemic was international students — many of whom were stranded in their home countries during the last academic year, unable to travel to the U.S. due to closed embassies and travel restrictions. 

According to Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the International Student Resource Center Josh Whitson, two major changes have made navigating travel restrictions much more hopeful for international students.

“One was almost all U.S. embassies reopened, and even if they aren’t open at normal capacity, they’ve been prioritizing student visas. So, for the most part all of our new students coming in the fall have been able to get appointments, attend those appointments, get their visas approved,” Whitson said.

International students will also benefit from domestic poltical changes.

“The second thing that was a major change this summer is that the Biden administration granted exemptions to all the travel restrictions to students,” Whitson said. “So, you still can’t come here from China or Brazil as a tourist, but if you’re going to hold an F1 student visa to come to the United States, you’re automatically granted what’s called a National Interest Exemption.”

Despite these signs of life returning to a state of normalcy on campus and within the City’s community, many remain concerned about what the Delta variant could mean for the future. With rising caseloads in every single state, some are worried that their vaccine will not be enough to fully protect them from the virus.

This concern became even more salient this week after a preliminary study found that the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine provides less protection from the Delta variant than it originally offered. This is an especially poignant concern for the College, because the College-run clinic distributed the J&J vaccine to students last spring. 

While some journalists and medical experts have advised that people vaccinated with the J&J seek a second Pfizer or Moderna booster shot, no official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested this and Covell also sees no reason for such a response. Campus Health Coordinator Katie Gravens also pushed back against the idea that boosters might be needed for those who have been previously vaccinated. 

“​​The CDC has not made an official recommendation regarding the need for boosters for any of the vaccines as studies are ongoing,” Gravens wrote in an email to the Review. “Some recent studies that have been reported in the media regarding the efficacy of J&J against the Delta variant were not peer-reviewed or reported in a scientific journal, therefore the results should not be considered conclusive.”

Covell stressed that the Delta variant poses a real threat to Northeast Ohio but also explained that the group that will be most impacted by it will be those people who have not received a vaccine. As a result, he does not anticipate a need to go back to full masking and social distancing, especially because almost 90 percent of the Oberlin College community is vaccinated. 

“I’m concerned about what could happen with the Delta variant,” Covell said. “[But] right now? No. As a matter of fact, Ohio doesn’t have a lot [of Delta cases], but you can assume that it’s already here, and it will keep coming because it’s more contagious than the previous ones, but the good thing is it’s not more deadly. … Mostly, people who are infected with the Delta variant are people who are unvaccinated. So again, another reason to go out and get the vaccine.”

Nevertheless, community members and College students remain cautious about what the future and fall semester could hold, particularly as the Delta variant is only just beginning to have a presence in Northeast Ohio and there remains uncertainty about what future variants could develop. 

“The one thing I’ve learned from the past year and a half is it’s impossible for me to predict anything,” Whitson said. “So, what will the future look like? I have no idea. We always have the opportunity to advise students with the best information we have available at the time. But, it’s the questions like, ‘Will travel restrictions completely relax by October?’ or, ‘What are your predictions for the COVID situation for the fall semester?’ that I’ve learned I really can’t answer.”