Comparative transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 variants Delta and Alpha in New England, USA

Cell Rep Med. 2022 Mar 11;3(4):100583. doi: 10.1016/j.xcrm.2022.100583. eCollection 2022 Apr 19.


The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant rose to dominance in mid-2021, likely propelled by an estimated 40%-80% increased transmissibility over Alpha. To investigate if this ostensible difference in transmissibility is uniform across populations, we partner with public health programs from all six states in New England in the United States. We compare logistic growth rates during each variant's respective emergence period, finding that Delta emerged 1.37-2.63 times faster than Alpha (range across states). We compute variant-specific effective reproductive numbers, estimating that Delta is 63%-167% more transmissible than Alpha (range across states). Finally, we estimate that Delta infections generate on average 6.2 (95% CI 3.1-10.9) times more viral RNA copies per milliliter than Alpha infections during their respective emergence. Overall, our evidence suggests that Delta's enhanced transmissibility can be attributed to its innate ability to increase infectiousness, but its epidemiological dynamics may vary depending on underlying population attributes and sequencing data availability.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; VOC; genomic epidemiology; transmissibility; variant of concern; viral emergence; viral sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • New England / epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants