Why the Delta Variant is So Concerning: What You Need to Know
Answers to key questions about this even more contagious coronavirus
Written by Robert Britt and published in Medium.com 7/30/2021
Here we go again. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious than anything we’ve seen during the pandemic so far. It’s so contagious, it’s squeezing out its SARS-CoV-2 brethren to become the predominant variant in circulation.
So what should you do?
Whether you are vaccinated or not, it’s time to mask up and take other preventive steps if you wish to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones and the people in your community, experts say.
Given the situation is evolving quickly, here are answers to the key questions you might have:
What is the Delta variant and where is it?
From very early days, the original pandemic-producing coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, has been mutating in mostly insignificant ways. Over time, left to hop from one human host to another, those mutations have added up to several variant strains of the original with some significant new features, including greater transmissibility. The Delta strain has emerged as the most infectious.
And it’s everywhere. More than 80% of new Covid cases in the United States were caused by the Delta variant as of July 17, compared to just 30% on June 19 — a huge increase in a short time.
How infectious is the Delta variant?
Very. The CDC now says this strain of the coronavirus is more infectious than the common cold, the flu, Ebola, smallpox and chickenpox, according to internal CDC documents obtained by the New York Times.
Do the vaccines work against the Delta variant?
Yes, but perhaps ever-so-slightly less so, according to a study published July 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Vaccines were never said to be 100% effective, and so far it appears they’re holding up very well against all known variants. “Covid vaccines are not perfect. But they are darn good, and keep you alive. Even with delta, alpha, gamma, kappa, lambda, etc.,” tweets Mayo Clinic researcher Vincent Rajkumar, MD. [See details on Elemental from science journalist
If I’m vaccinated but catch the Delta variant, how bad will my Covid be?
There’s no guarantee a vaccine will prevent serious illness, but your odds of a mild case go way, way up. “In CDC’s data they showed vaccinated people had a 25-fold reduction in risk of death, a 25-fold reduction in risk of hospitalization,” says Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration.
If I’m vaccinated, can I catch and spread the Delta variant?
Yes. In such a “breakthrough” case, as they’re called, you’ll carry as much virus in your nose and throat as an unvaccinated person who caught it, and so you can spread it just as easily, the New York Times reports. This is why adding (or reincorporating) other layers of protection is so vital right now.
If I haven’t been vaccinated yet, should I just skip the shot altogether?
No. As of today, a vaccinated person is still thought to be about ⅛ as likely to catch Covid-19 as an unvaccinated person, all other things being equal, according to Bob Watcher, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Vaccines prevent [the] vast majority of infections, transmission, and nearly all hospitalizations, deaths,” says Ashish Jha, MD, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
I want to protect myself and others. Should I mask up again?
Absolutely. Whether you are vaccinated or not, whenever you’re around people you don’t know, whenever you’re in crowded places (especially indoors) a mask offers a crucial layer of protection against catching Covid-19 and against transmitting it.
“With Delta, we’re facing an even more formidable foe,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC. “The virus has adapted to become twice as infectious, which means we need to double down on protection, including masks. But the good news is vaccines are still doing their job — keeping people out of hospitals and the morgue.”
Keep in mind: Even if you’re vaccinated, you could catch Covid. A new study of breakthrough cases found most were mild or asymptomatic, but about 19% of them developed “long covid,” symptoms like fatigue and loss of smell that persisted beyond six weeks.
A No-Excuses Guide to Wearing and Caring for Face Masks
We’ll be wearing masks for a while. Everything you need to know about this new fixture in our lives.
What else can I do to protect myself and my loved ones?
The advice has not changed for many months: Layers. Upon layers. Upon layers. To refresh:
Limit the amount of time you spend around other people — 10 minutes at the grocery story is less risky than 20 minutes, other things being equal.
Open windows and otherwise improve ventilation.
Upgrade AC filters to HEPA quality or virus-trapping ratings.