More and more people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Recreational travel has resumed, and friends and families can once again gather in large groups mask-free.
We aren’t out of the woods yet, though. In the U.S., where more than 48% of the population is fully vaccinated, the delta variant has become increasingly widespread. Initially identified in India, the highly-transmissible coronavirus mutation has spread to more than 60 countries since late 2020.
Now, viruses adapt in order to survive. The delta strain has only recently begun to made headlines stateside. And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are monitoring the variant, we think it’s important to circulate as much information as possible.
That’s where this article comes in. Keep on reading to debunk some common myths surrounding the delta variant, and to review a series of tips for protecting yourself.
The Delta Variant: What Is It?
Also known as B.1.617.2—or, according to the WHO, “the fastest and fittest” version of the virus—the delta COVID-19 strain spreads much quicker than other coronavirus variations. The variant has protein mutations that promote faster infection—meaning people will likely be more contagious when they contract the virus, presenting an even greater risk.
Statistically speaking, researchers have found that the delta variant is roughly 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant, or another problematic strain that was first identified in the U.K. The Alpha variant, it’s worth noting, is 50% more contagious than the original coronavirus from 2019.
What does this mean from a public health standpoint? Experts from Yale Medicine claim the average person who contracts the delta variant spreads it to three or four people, compared to just one or two people with the initial coronavirus.
Before we move on, let’s also touch on the delta plus strain, or B.1.617.2.1 (known in some cases as AY.1). Delta Plus is considered a “subvariant” of the delta strain, and includes a mutation known for targeting the lung cells. It’s been found in about 10 countries so far.
The Delta Variant in the U.S.
As of July 2021, the delta strain is the most prevalent coronavirus variant in the U.S., Germany, and other countries. In the U.K., the delta variation comprises over 97% of all new COVID-19 infections.
Currently present in all 50 states, the delta strain makes up 52% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. In states like Kansas and Missouri—which feature lower-than-average vaccination rates—delta accounts for 80% of new cases.
Though the delta COVID-19 strain has only recently taken the U.S. by storm, public health officials are keeping a close eye on its progression. There are no new lockdowns at the moment, but this could change as we approach the fall—when it might also be time to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster.
What Are the Symptoms of the Delta Variant?
The symptoms of the delta variant aren’t unlike those found in the original COVID-19 strain and other mutations. These include a persistent dry cough, headache, and fever.
Some patients, however, are reporting symptoms that differ slightly from those presented in earlier strains. In the U.K., the ZOE COVID Symptom Study found that cough and loss of smell are less frequent, while sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and other cold-like symptoms are more prevalent.
As a result, officials are asking anyone who has any sort of COVID-19 symptom to get tested—even if they believe they’re simply dealing with a common cold. This will help to reduce case counts as experts continue to explore the risk and transmissibility of the delta variant.
Is the Delta Variant a Threat to Vaccinated People?
The short answer? Not exactly—but we’re still learning. Experts are investigating how effective the vaccines are against different variants of the novel coronavirus. Preliminary data shows that they may offer more protection against some variants than they do others.
That said, one of the best ways to protect yourself from the delta strain is to get the COVID-19 vaccine (and wait the recommended amount of time for the vaccine to take effect). This is because even if you contract COVID-19, vaccinated people are unlikely to carry significant quantities of the virus.
Note: Local outbreaks tend to create a spike in vaccine rates. Ideally, the mere presence of the delta variant will cause more people to get vaccinated—before the hyper-transmissible strain becomes a serious threat in your area.
5 Tips to Stay Protected from the Delta COVID-19 Variant
How can you protect yourself from the delta variant? Consider the five following strategies:
1. Get vaccinated!
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again. All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S.—Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson—are considered effective against the delta variant. Their efficacy is slightly lower against the high-stakes strain than it is earlier variants, but getting vaccinated can still go a long way.
2. Be diligent about potential breakthrough infections.
Vaccinated people can still get breakthrough infections, although these cases are much less likely—and much less severe when they do occur. White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledges the possibility of still getting infected post-vaccination, but he states that infections among vaccinated people are much less transmissible.
3. Encourage unvaccinated children to mask up in public.
COVID-19 vaccines aren’t yet authorized for children under the age of 12. This makes the delta strain especially threatening to young people, who will soon return to school. Dr. Paul Offit, Director of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center, stated that masking and social distancing might be necessary when kids go back to school this fall.
4. Consider wearing a mask in places with high case counts.
If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last 16 months, it’s that life is one big risk assessment. Even with the COVID-19 vaccine readily-available, people are being cautious. Some are still masking up, even with restrictions loosening, and avoiding close contact with strangers. These are viable tips that can boost your level of protection against the delta strain.
5. Pay close attention to public health updates.
Like we mentioned above, we’re still learning about the delta strain and its effect on vaccinated people. Researchers are learning more and more about the risk involved with this strain, so keeping tabs on the latest recommendations is key. From there, you can take the right measures to ward off different mutations of the virus.
If you’re completely vaccinated against COVID-19, contracting the delta coronavirus variant is pretty unlikely. The above tips, however, can still help to make sure you’re protected. Be sure to keep them in mind as researchers continue to study the virus.
Side note: Travelers should continue wearing masks in all forms of public transportation in the U.S. and around the world, including on planes, trains, and buses. Even if you’ve been vaccinated, this practice is crucial to protecting yourself and others.
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