SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Not that long ago, it might have seemed to you that together, we were beating the COVID-19 pandemic.

People were flocking to newly approved vaccines, encouraging leaders to lift shutdown orders and mask mandates. The hope was that soon, the U.S. population could reach herd immunity, where enough people were vaccinated to squelch fast-surging outbreaks of COVID-19.

But then the number of those getting the vaccine dropped, and the delta variant, a new, fast-spreading version of the virus that causes COVID-19, began to dominate. Now herd immunity is no longer the goal. Instead, we're fighting to get through another surge of COVID-19, powered by the delta variant.

What is it about the delta variant that makes it so powerful, and how has it changed the game for arguments over mask policies, the need for vaccinations and the fight over accurate medical information?

In the latest episode of The Health Variant podcast, host and NewsMD Correspondent Jeremy Fugleberg interviews Dr. Louis Mansky, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for Molecular Virology.

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Fugleberg and Mansky discuss the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19, how much it has upended plans to end the pandemic is we knew it, and what we know, and don't know, about the variant.

"The Health Variant" digs into health topics important to the region, such as fitness, COVID-19, cannabis and telehealth, introduces listeners to must-know places and people and offers behind-the-scenes reporting.

NewsMD is a Forum Communications brand focusing on health and health care reporting, primarily in the Upper Midwest, including coverage of industry news, research, trends, technology, economic and policy issues.

"The Health Variant" podcast is available on major podcast apps, including:

For comments or podcast episode topic suggestions, contact Fugleberg at jfugleberg@forumcomm.com or on Twitter: @jayfug.