The Delta Variant
The Delta variant is currently the most prominent COVID-19 variant in the United States. As of August, 97 percent of recorded COVID-19 cases in the US are associated with the Delta variant. It was first detected in India in December of 2020 and, after just a few months, it became the dominant variant in several countries including the US, England, and Israel. Those infected with the Delta variant have been found to have considerably more viral particles. The higher viral load allows Delta to be more than twice as contagious compared to previous variants. Additionally, it appears to cause more intense sickness. A study from England suggests that those infected with the Delta variant are twice as likely to be hospitalized.
Vaccines and the Delta Variant
While there are increasing reports of breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, those who do get infected appear to have a shorter infectious period and much lower rates of hospitalization and death. A study from England concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was 96 percent effective at preventing hospitalization following two doses. The same study estimated that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 80 percent effective at preventing infection altogether. It is important to note that these statistics can vary from study to study due to different underlying factors and transmission rates among different communities. However, it is certain that the vaccine reduces both the risk of infection and especially the risk of death and hospitalization. Furthermore, communities with lower vaccination rates are contributing more towards the increase in COVID-19 case numbers. Those who are unvaccinated have a higher chance of getting and therefore spreading the Delta variant (and most other COVID-19 variants) due to a lack of immune protection.
Additionally, even for those who have been previously infected with COVID-19, vaccination is important. A CDC study of a group of Kentucky residents who had been previously infected with COVID-19 concluded that those with only natural immunity (immunity gained from being infected with the virus) were more than twice as likely to be reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated.
Masks and the Delta Variant
The more COVID-19 spreads, the more likely it is that new, potentially more dangerous variants develop. This is why the CDC states that multiple precautions be put in place to limit transmission. The recommendation is that individuals who are eligible (aka 12 and up) get vaccinated and wear masks in public indoor spaces. While no prevention measure can be 100 percent effective at preventing Delta variant infections, taking several measures (getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, social distancing) will provide the best protection.
Children and the Delta Variant
In the past week, the amount of children being hospitalized with COVID-19 has dramatically increased. Infections among children have grown from 12,000 nationally in the beginning of July to 96,000 at the beginning of August. It is being reported by doctors that almost all children hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, both those who are eligible to receive the vaccine and those who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. However, child hospitalizations, while rising, remain rare. So far only 400 children in the US have died from COVID-19 compared to more than 600,000 adults. For the states that provide data on pediatric hospitalizations, less than 2 percent of COVID-19 cases in children involved hospitalization and between 0 and 0.03 percent involved death. The impact of the Delta variant on children is not entirely known and, as with many instances throughout the pandemic, the situation might become clearer as time goes on. The largest concern with children and COVID-19 is their contribution to the spread of the virus as children represented nearly 15 percent of new COVID-19 cases at the beginning of August.
With the Delta variant being primarily responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the US, it is incredibly important that multiple safety measures be used to limit spread. The Delta variant is twice as contagious so both getting vaccinated and masking in public settings will help decrease the risk of transmission. Additionally, as school begins and COVID-19 cases rise in children, taking extra precautions will be necessary to ensure a safer and more normal school year.