WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Viruses constantly mutate so they can continue to spread.
The more a virus circulates through the population, the more it can change.
The newest variant of COVID-19 is the Delta variant.
Here are five things you need to know about the Delta variant.
It is more contagious than other SARS-CoV-2 virus strains
Early research suggests that it may be more contagious than other COVID-19 variants.
The Delta variant is now the dominant variant circulating in the United States and has affected people in all 50 states.
It has been labeled a "variant of concern" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Possible attributes of a variant of concern include evidence of increased transmissibility and increased disease severity.
According to the CDC, the Delta variant is estimated to be responsible for 57.6% of newly confirmed cases in the United States from June 20 through July 3.
That's up from 31.1% just two weeks earlier.
In May, the delta variant was estimated to be responsible for only 3% of new cases in the U.S., according to CDC data.
"Although we expected the delta variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, this rapid rise is troubling," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said recently during a White House briefing.
COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection against the Delta variant
Every time the virus jumps to a new person, the chance of mutation increases. If the virus keeps encountering vaccinated people, it can't keep spreading.
According to the CDC, only 48.3% of Americans are fully vaccinated. 55.8% have received at least one dose.
Meanwhile, 59.2% of Americans over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated and 65.2% age 18 and older have had at least one dose.
"There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Walensky said during a White House briefing Friday. "We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well."
It is rapidly spreading around the world
The Delta variant was first identified in India late last year.
It also swept through Great Britain.
Since then it has been reported in at least 104 countries and is expected to soon be the dominant coronavirus variant globally, according to the World Health Organization.
People who contract the Delta variant may be more likely to be hospitalized
Those who contract the Delta variant are more likely to experience severe illness compared to earlier variants of the virus.
"It's frustrating because 95% of the people I see being hospitalized now due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated," a Jupiter nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
"If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk and our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated," Walensky warned.
There will likely be other variants ahead
Experts are constantly tracking the COVID-19 variants.
Since mutations are natural and expected, there will likely be other variants in the future.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself and help the rest of society is to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Current evidence suggests being fully vaccinated is highly effective in preventing hospitalization and serious illness.