State health officials are warning that the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 could pose a problem in areas of the state with lower vaccination rates.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, says officials are seeing a “doubling” of the percentage of new COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant in the past few weeks. Officials had identified 83 cases of the delta variant in the state as of Thursday, the DHS site shows.

“We’ve seen in India, we’re seeing it in the UK, we are seeing it in southern states right now, and there’s no reason to believe Wisconsin is any different, that that variant won’t take off and have a significant increase in our state as well,” she said Friday during a call with reporters.

DHS recently began providing more precise information on COVID-19 vaccination rates by school district, municipality and Census tract. Willems Van Dijk pointed to “painfully low” rates of vaccination in urban neighborhoods “with higher social vulnerability.” Plus, she noted that rural parts of the state tend to have lower vaccination rates as well.

“Those are the places that — let’s be very frank — they are at risk if the delta variant takes hold, which it likely will, in our state,” she said. “Those people are at risk of disease, hospitalization and death. We have a cure for that: it’s called vaccine.”

DHS Chief Medical Officer Ryan Westergaard explained that because the delta variant is more contagious, it will spread more quickly “at any given level of precaution.”

Although not all new cases of the virus in the state are being genetically sequenced, many are. Westergaard said those findings suggest the delta variant will soon be responsible for most new cases of the virus in Wisconsin.

“When we see the same trends that we see in national data and other states, I think we can be pretty confident that the data are painting an accurate picture, which is that the delta strain is becoming the dominant strain,” he said.

As of Friday, 50.7 percent of Wisconsin’s total population had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 47.9 percent had been fully vaccinated against the virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 600,000 cases of the virus have been identified in the state.

See the DHS page on COVID-19 variants in the state: