Taking off our masks and enjoying freedom from social distancing was a welcome break after the restrictions of 2020. But due to the rapidly spreading variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC says we all need to go back to wearing masks in public if we are in “areas of substantial and high transmission.” Being vaccinated is no longer an exemption from the familiar COVID protocols.
The number of cases is increasing at an alarming rate, so taking action is really necessary. For example, in Florida, during late spring of this year the number of new COVID-19 related hospitalizations was 250 a day. Over about the last five weeks, that number has risen to 1,250 a day. Because of the influx of new patients, hospitals have had to cancel surgeries and delay other essential care. This happened during the pandemic in 2020, leading to increased mortality from other causes.
Vaccinated Individuals Can Spread the Virus
The July 30 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by CDC included data showing similar viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Viral load basically refers to the amount of the virus in an infected person. Even if it isn’t causing symptoms, the amount of virus present in their nose and mouth can be enough to spread the disease.
The Delta Variant Is Largely Responsible
During the outbreak in India in March of this year, an emerging lineage of the virus identified as B.1.617 was found to be the dominant version of the virus causing the epidemic. A sub-lineage, B.1.617.2, quickly spread and became dominant in other countries as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) labelled it Variant of Concern Delta, leading to its more common reference as the delta variant.
Not only does the delta variant replicate faster, it starts doing it sooner. It took the original version about six days to reach a detectable level, but the variant only takes four days to get to that level, making carriers contagious much faster.
The 14-day quarantine following exposure that had been required during the initial spread of the pandemic had been relaxed. The delta variant makes it necessary again. It is also important to beginning quarantining immediately and not wait until symptoms may appear since the variant grows so fast.
The Delta Variant Caused Testing Guidelines to Change Also
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, once enough test kits became available, it was recommended that anyone exposed to the virus get tested. After vaccinations became widespread, CDC guidelines said that fully vaccinated people who were exposed to the virus did not have to get tested as long as they had no symptoms of the disease caused by the virus.
The delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. It is so highly contagious and develops such a high viral load that even those who are fully vaccinated should now get tested if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Testing should be done three to five days after exposure even if no symptoms are present.
What Makes the Delta Variant So Contagious
The delta variant of the coronavirus is the most contagious version in the world. It spreads two or three times faster than the original version of SARS-COV-2. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that it is what’s driving the current spike in cases spreading through the U.S. More than 80% of the new cases are due to the delta variant.
The variant replicates much faster and sooner after infecting a person. A study conducted when the variant was discovered found that viral loads were about 1,000 time higher on the day the virus was detected than the original version of the coronavirus had been.
Data Supports Vaccination for COVID-19
None of the vaccines being administered for COVID-19 were put through the usual rigorous (and years long) testing protocols to get FDA approval. All of them are being used under an Emergency Use Authorization, which some have claimed means they are not safe. The fact is the vaccines have been tested on thousands of people and now statistics are indicating that they are successful in reducing the spread and severity of the disease.
Earlier this month Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said that preliminary data from some states indicates that 99.5 percent of recent coronavirus deaths were people who were not vaccinated. She also indicated that the deaths could have been prevented.
Vaccinated people still have a chance of getting the virus. If they become ill from it, they are much less likely to become seriously ill. It’s also important to be aware that they can carry the disease to unvaccinated children and other vulnerable members of their households even if they never have a symptom themselves.
Wearing masks and social distancing in public places where others may be unvaccinated are again necessary to minimize the chance of spreading the disease.
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