The threat of new coronavirus variants has scrambled attempts to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The worst so far has been the “delta variant,” which has spread like lightning across the country. Here’s what you need to know.
Delta is more contagious than other virus strains
Mutations in the delta variant make it more efficient at transmitting and infecting new hosts, meaning it’s twice as contagious as earlier variants. As of July 22, the Delta variant made up over 80% of newly reported cases. In Texas, late July saw a rate of 108.7 cases per 100,000 residents, and numbers have only risen since. In an environment where nobody is wearing masks or is vaccinated, each person with delta may infect around four other people, leading to an exponential rise in cases.
While the symptoms of the Delta variant are roughly the same as other strains of COVID—loss of smell or taste, coughing, fever, lung damage, difficulty breathing, as well as other inflammatory conditions—there are reports of people getting sick significantly more quickly.
Unvaccinated people are most at risk
The virus is spreading particularly fast among unvaccinated populations, which have no protection against the more efficient variant. Unvaccinated children and adults under 50 are 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta than with earlier coronavirus variants. The result may be hyperlocal outbreaks, as the virus rages through pockets of unvaccinated people in schools, prisons, and anti-vaccine communities.
Are vaccinated people at risk?
It’s important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing disease. Two-dose vaccines like Pfeizer have proven to be around 88% effective at preventing a symptomatic infection, which is a drop when compared to its effectiveness with earlier coronavirus variants. As a result, some people have developed “breakthrough” infections, which can be genuinely unpleasant.
However, the vaccine’s ability to protect against severe and life-threatening infections—the sort which require hospitalization—is holding strong at around 95%. That means that while vaccines have gotten less effective at stopping Covid-19 in its tracks, they’re still extremely good at protecting people from the kind of severe cases that need hospital beds or ventilators. The vast majority of patients with breakthrough infections can recover at home. Most people who are vaccinated may only have symptoms similar to that of a common cold.
So how do I stop from getting Delta?
The most important thing to do is to get vaccinated, if you haven’t already: it will protect you from serious illness or death. The risk of catching COVID while outdoors is considerably lower due to the amount of ventilation from wind and breezes: if you decide to go to a restaurant, therefore, eat outdoors. Indoors, it is important to be aware of airborne infection risk. Studies have shown that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air at distances greater than 6 ft. Business owners and healthcare facilities in particular should test and monitor their HVAC systems to ensure proper airflow and ventilation.
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