TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – National and state health officials are urging people to take steps to stay safe, as the delta variant continues to pose a major threat to communities across the U.S.

“When we look at how many cases in the country are due to delta, it’s well over 80%,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the White House COVID Equity Task Force. “We can, in fact, get to the other side of this pandemic. Everyone has a part to play.”

The Delta variant is more than twice as infectious as other strains of coronavirus. For people infected, the viral load, which measures the amount of a virus in an organism, is also higher, so it makes it more likely that they’re going to get sicker and spread the illness.

On Tuesday, Dr. Nunez-Smith told Kansas Capitol Bureau that the highly contagious variant appears to be spreading quickly across the nation, which has raised concerns, especially for unvaccinated people. One of her greatest concerns for some states with lower vaccination rates is that the conversation has become politicized.

According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues and the U.S. role in global health policy, there appears to be a widening gap between some Republicans and Democrats in receiving the vaccine. The survey found that Democrats were much more likely to report having been vaccinated than Republicans and that Republicans are much more likely to say that they definitely do not want to get vaccinated.

“COVID-19 knows no political party whatsoever. We have to anchor this conversation in public health and what we know works,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. “When we look around the country, and we look at Kansas, we know that the time window is really short. Fully vaccinated is what provides that benefit, that protection. That second shot is really, really key, but understand what has to be done until you get that protection.”

Dr. Nunez-Smith pointed to the CDC’s latest safety guidance as what “works” to prevent the variant’s spread and other coronavirus cases. The CDC reversed its guidance for those fully vaccinated last month, encouraging people to wear masks indoors when in areas with substantial or high transmission.

It also highly recommends vaccinations as an effective way to prevent severe illness. However, CDC data shows that only 45.4% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated in Kansas. State health officials have said those who are unvaccinated are the most at risk.

“It is the unvaccinated people that are in the hospitals having the worst clinical outcomes and deaths,” said Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health & Environment. “The best way to combat the Delta Variant, as well as all the other variants, is vaccination.”

As of Tuesday, state data shows 1,719 delta variant cases have been identified across Kansas. As a result, the state has partnered with different counties and community organizations to encourage vaccine support and testing. The state has also updated state mask guidance to fall in line with the latest CDC recommendations.

“We have actually seen upticks in rates of vaccination in areas across the country with the lowest vaccination rate because I think people are understanding just how serious delta is,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. “It’s more important than ever to get vaccinated.”