Cayman’s first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant came in from Miami, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee has confirmed.
Lee, in a video message released following the announcement of the Delta variant cases Thursday night, said while these instances have been confirmed through genomic sequencing, that does not mean these are, necessarily, the first cases of the infectious coronavirus mutation.
“The arrival of the Delta variant doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been here before, it’s just the fact that this is the first time we’ve been able to confirm the presence of it. I’m sure we’ve had people with that before, as it is seeded around the world,” he said in the Government Information Services video message.
The CMO indicated Thursday that one of the patients is asymptomatic, and the other has only mild symptoms.
They both remain in isolation under the care of Public Health.
Governor Martyn Roper, in a statement Friday, lamented that the growing dominance of the Delta variant is a dangerous development, as the world grapples with COVID.
This, he said, only strengthens the call by government and health officials for more people to get the jab.
“Delta cases on our shores are not a surprise given that this dangerous variant is the dominant one in the US and UK. Nonetheless, the arrival of Delta in Cayman makes it even more imperative that those who have not taken the vaccine in our community do so as soon as possible. It takes at least 5 weeks before immunity builds up effectively for those receiving a first dose,” he said.
He reiterated a statement by the premier earlier in the week, that it is increasingly clear that COVID is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
“I am sure all of us were touched by interviews coming out of the US with unvaccinated Covid patients saying they wished they had had the vaccine and urging others to take it,” he lamented.
Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2 variant, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation. It was first detected in India in December 2020 and has spread to become the dominant strain in new infections in the United Kingdom and the US.
Lee said, in his message, it was “disappointing” to learn that the unrelated travellers had both been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Health Services Authority earlier this year.
He assured the vaccine Cayman has been providing through the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office “is 88 percent protective against the Delta variant as opposed to 95% that we all know for the original variants from Wuhan and then thereafter from the Alpha variant from Kent.”
Cayman, he said, has exceedingly good protection from infection.
“We know that all of the variants that we’ve so far discovered when you have a good vaccine on board the likelihood of you having a serious outcome such as an admission to hospital or a death is exceedingly small,” he added.
The governor added in his statement that Cayman can have confidence in the public health teams “who have kept us safe in managing the risks from returning travellers and I want to thank them all once more for their outstanding service to our community.”
Systems in place for community protection
Lee assured the system currently in place to protect the community from the virus and its variants is keeping everyone safe.
“We remain relatively well protected at the minute. We continue to test everybody as they’re coming out of quarantine and so I feel comfortable that the people that are in quarantine the public is protected from those people when they have infections,” he said.
However, the Chief Medical Officer said the risk of the variant or the virus itself escaping into the community increases when borders reopen which is why he stressed the need to vaccinate as many people as possible.
“We really want to improve the [vaccination] numbers in order for us all to protect ourselves and then we will know that we are protected from serious illness and the serious consequences that this virus can bring,” Lee said.
Roper joined Lee in his plea for vaccination.
“If you haven’t had the vaccine yet, the emergence of Delta variant should give pause for reflection. Opening the border will never be risk free. Getting as many jabs in arms is our best hope of protecting everyone in our community, including our elderly and vulnerable and our young people, who even if they get COVID mildly, can suffer from highly debilitating long COVID,” he said.
He added the UK’s commitment to provide vaccines, and a booster this autumn if needed, “remains firm.”
“Let’s please use this precious resource. I urge all those who have not stepped forward to do so,” he added.
Does the Delta variant differ from the original COVID-19 strain?
The Delta variant is more contagious that the original strain, medical experts have reported and it is spreading globally.
Sky News reported that more than 30,000 new cases of the Delta variant have been recorded in the UK since last week, based on Public Health England data.
The variant is the dominant strain in the UK, with cases totalling 286,765.
Lee said the Delta variant carries quite similar symptoms to all of the other variants which are predominantly a lung-based illness when they first present.
“But the other worry, that we continually advise people about, is the possibility of long-COVID where multiple systems in your body can be affected by the virus which will make you have lethargy and weakness and ongoing shortness of breath. Sometimes these symptoms have been permanent in some people because it’s ended up that they’ve developed lung scarring from COVID,” he said.
He explained that often long COVID develops not in the people who are actually worse affected by COVID, but it can often be people who are relatively mildly affected who go on to develop these long symptoms.
This, he said, will cause quite a “significant health burden going forward”.