SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The highly-contagious Delta variant is likely just beginning to spread in Georgia, according to an infectious disease expert.

Data from the Coastal Health District shows COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Chatham County have doubled over the past two weeks. The community transmission index has also entered the high level.

Image provided by the Coastal Health District.

Dr. Stephen Thacker, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Health, believes the increase is due to the Delta variant and the relaxing of public health guidance.

“The reason that it gives so much worry is that it is much more efficient at infecting us at creating large copy numbers,” Dr. Thacker said. “A whole bunch of more virus is in your nose when you’re infected with this variant. With that, comes an easier recipe for spread within communities at risk.”

Dr. Thacker said he expects COVID-19 numbers to continue to climb in the coming weeks, as it’s likely too early for the data to account for Fourth of July gatherings.

Just over 40% of Chatham County is fully vaccinated, according to the state health department. Dr. Thacker said the majority of patients being admitted to hospitals now are unvaccinated.

“If you’re an unvaccinated member of our community you are at risk,” Dr. Thacker said. “Unfortunately there are still individuals in our county, our state and our nation that are losing their lives from this virus. I really believe that this is now a vaccine-preventable disease, so that’s a death that didn’t need to happen.”

Hospitalizations are shifting towards a younger demographic. The average age of hospitalization at Memorial Health is currently 50 years old, according to Dr. Thacker.

Although the current upward trend is cause for concern, he doesn’t think the county will hit the peak numbers seen during last winter’s surge.

“We shouldn’t have to be talking about surges still at this point in the game,” Thacker said. “We have a lot of vaccine available to our communities, we have access points for it, and so we really just need to get folks engaged, having those critical conversations with their trusted health advisors so that they can pursue vaccination.”

The vaccine is effective against the Delta variant, according to Thacker. He believes the vaccine is ultimately the only way to stop new variants from emerging.

“Each time this virus moves from one person to another, there is opportunity for mutation and creating a new version or new variant of the virus that’s more effective at infecting us or harming us,” Thacker said. “The sooner we can get access to vaccine not only just in the U.S. but in all the other nations of the world, the sooner we will not have to worry about variants of this nature.”

Even if you are fully vaccinated, Dr. Thacker said you should immediately get tested for COVID-19 if you are displaying symptoms. The Delta variant presents the same symptoms as COVID-19, including fever, cough and loss of taste or smell.