Health experts: COVID-19 surge imminent with Delta variant in community spread

Health experts are warning that a surge in COVID-19 cases is imminent, adding it is an inevitable outcome as the Delta variant is now in community spread.

The belief is driven primarily by Monday’s confirmation that the more infectious and more deadly Delta variant is making its way through the largely unvaccinated population. 

Based on its documented effects internationally, geneticist Dr Nicole Ramlachan said yesterday she was concerned that the upcoming surge will be the largest experienced locally, dwarfing the recent spike that prompted the country into a State of Emergency.

“If you look at what’s happening around the world, specifically, the UK, the US, Bangladesh, Singapore, even India, it (Delta) really was responsible for the largest amount of severe disease and deaths that those countries were seeing since the initial onslaught that happened in early 2020,” Ramlachan said.

“So the surge could really be a surge that really forces the population to exceed its ability to be treated in the healthcare facilities that we have, specifically ICU beds and those kinds of things, so it’s a real, real, real concern.”

T&T Medical Association’s public relations officer Dr Keegan Bhaggan believes these effects will be compounded by the low vaccination numbers in T&T. 

“Despite having months of a head start compared to the rest of the world in terms of the Delta variant reaching Trinidad and Tobago, our vaccinated population still remains low. As such, it is likely that a similar overwhelming rate of infection and severity of illness that was seen in other countries like USA will be also be seen here,” he said.

Until the vaccination hurdle is overcome, Ramlachan believes the country will always be at the mercy of COVID-19.

“We need to be at 65, 70, 75 per cent (vaccine uptake) to really make a dent to be able to stop this thing in its tracks and learn how to live with it. Until then, we are sitting ducks waiting for a surge at 34 per cent (of the population fully vaccinated) as of today and that is way below where we need to be to effectively stop surges from occurring in our population,” she said. 

Both Dr Ramlachan and Dr Bhaggan warn that the unvaccinated population will bear the brunt of any surge. 

“Just like in other countries internationally, we will likely see a large proportion of the unvaccinated population being infected and spreading the Delta variant before the infections rise high enough to begin spreading amongst the vaccinated population,” Bhaggan said.

“And what has been seen amongst all other countries is that the vaccinated group will have less severe hospital outcomes, even if infected, compared to the unvaccinated. This difference was already being seen in the distribution of cases even before confirmation of the Delta variant being part of community spread.”

There is even evidence locally that vaccines are aiding in preventing severe infection and death.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram presented the hospital statistics for COVID-19 patients on August 30. The data showed that at the time, 99.4 per cent of the patients in the ICU or who died from the disease were unvaccinated.

On Monday, the Chief Medical Officer indicated that the discovery of additional Delta infections from within the population meant it was at community spread. 

He, however, noted that there weren’t yet any signs of the variant driving transmission in the country.