SHOW LOW — Navajo County health officials this week confirmed a super-spreader cluster of 24 COVID-19 infections at a White Mountain Community (or Linden) dance hall, but released few details in order to protect the identity of those infected.

“We can confirm 24 identified individuals with COVID-19 from the dance hall cluster outbreak. Now that we’ve surpassed 20 cases, we can share the case count information,” said Bryan Layton, assistant Navajo County manager. “The rest remains in the HIPAA concern area if we share numbers.”

As a result of privacy laws, Layon could not confirm key details — like the percentage of people at the dance who got infected, how many of the infected had been vaccinated and which strains of COVID-19 were involved.

He confirmed that samples of the strain involved had been sent to the state and university labs for genetic sequencing.

“The testing process to identify variants hasn’t been through the vetting by the FDA to be categorized as a diagnostic test. Therefore, Public Health is specifically prohibited from sharing results with individuals or the public. The test is only approved to be used for community surveillance purposes and this is how we are utilizing the information we receive.”

This means the county won’t even notify the people infected if they were carrying one of the more infections strains now circulating in the region.

The Independent revealed the cluster after conversations with the dance hall owners. The dance hall has voluntarily closed down. The owners said two people had died as a result of their infections. They said about a third of the people who got sick had been vaccinated.

The incident has raised concerns about the potential impact of the new, fast-spreading Delta strain on the county.

Layton confirmed that Delta has arrived. “Multiple variants of interest, including the Delta variant, have been identified across Navajo County, both on and off tribal lands,” he said. However, he would not confirm what variants were involved in the Linden cluster.

He noted, “the investigation is ongoing and contract tracking is an active part of the investigation.”

He urged anyone who attended the dance or has been in contact with someone who did to contact the public health department.

Studies elsewhere suggest that the Delta variant spreads twice as easily as the original strain. In other countries, the Delta strain has proved more infectious for younger people. Studies have offered conflicting evidence as to whether the Delta strain is more likely to cause hospitalization or death.

Some studies suggest the Delta variant can also more readily infect someone who has recovered from an infection from a previous strain. The vaccine appears to work almost as well against Delta as against the original, Alpha, strain. However, that protection may kick in only after you’ve been fully vaccinated — with one shot providing 30% protection and the second shot boosting protection to about 85%, according to some recent studies.

Delta and other fast-spreading strains are causing fresh spikes in infections and deaths across the country — mostly in states like Arizona with relatively low vaccination rates. Nationally, new cases have increased 140% nationally as a daily average in the past two weeks, with deaths up 33% — with increases concentrated in states in the west and south with low vaccination rates. Only 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

Arizona has seen a 79% increase, with an infection rate of 13 per 100,000. Deaths have risen 27% and hospitalizations by 30% — but testing for the virus has plunged 48%. New cases and deaths still remain far below the January peaks, likely due to the partial success of the mass vaccination effort. Only 44% of Arizona residents are fully vaccinated.

The trend in new cases in Northern Arizona also mirrors the vaccination rate.

Gila County’s doing the worst — with an 82% increase in new cases and only 45 % of the population fully vaccinated. The case rate has risen to 17 per 100,000 in the past two weeks, according to a database maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Navajo County has also seen a steady increase, with an average of 15 cases per 100,000 in the past two weeks and 49 % of the population fully vaccinated.

Gila and Navajo counties now rank as “high risk” for the spread of the virus.

Apache County’s in the best shape, with an 85% increase in past two weeks to 10 cases per 100,000, with a downturn in the last few days. In Apache County, 59 % of the population is fully vaccinated.

Some counties are doing much worse — with a 275% increase in Yavapai County to 20 per 100,000 and a 233% increase in Coconino County to 13 per 100,000.

Health officials worry that the resumption of school could case a fresh spike, especially at the universities, given the ongoing spread of the Delta strain.

As a rolling average, the US has gone from giving 3.4 million shots a day back in April to just 550,000 shots a day now. At the current pace, we won’t reach the protection of herd immunity for another year — while new variants continue to circulate.

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