CHICAGO - The delta variant has quickly gripped the U.S. and now we're learning there may be a delta variant plus, and an epsilon or lambda variant, that could also spread quickly.
On Thursday, FOX 32 spoke with the head of the infectious disease division at UI Health for a deeper look at these variants, and how to stop them.
"This is what viruses do. Their main mission is to reproduce," said Dr. Richard Novak.
In order to reproduce, Novak says the viruses mutate in huge numbers – that's what has happened with the delta variant now sweeping the country.
"They're basically in competition with one another, so viruses that are more efficient – causing infection, escaping our immune responses – are the ones that are becoming dominant," Novak said.
Novak says as long as there's an opportunity for the virus to replicate, we'll continue to see more variants, which is why it's so important to get vaccinated.
"The delta variant which is circulating now is extremely contagious. Much more contagious than the earlier variants that we were dealing with, and so people who are unvaccinated are very susceptible to this."
The urgent situation is driving Governor JB Pritzker to mandate universal masking inside schools and long-term care facilities, and require all state employees to be vaccinated by October 4.
"I had hoped that a state mask requirement for schools wouldn't be necessary, but it is," Pritzker said Thursday.
According to Illinois Department of Public Health data, of the roughly 10,000 "variant" COVID cases reported in Illinois between July 30 and August 4 – 1,084 were the delta variant.