It has been almost two years since the first report of COVID-19 from Wuhan, China, yet the novel Coronavirus continues to dominate our daily lives. Rising cases, lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing are topics we are all too familiar with. At this point, you’ve heard it all before and know the drill. Wear your mask, get vaccinated if you can, keep your distance when applicable, rinse and repeat. So if we have all been doing our part, why are cases still going up on a daily basis? Was there not a downward trajectory of cases just a couple of months ago? What changed? Enter the Delta variant.
What are Virus Variants?
Before we discuss what makes the Delta variant different and what safety precautions we can take against it, I would like to spend a moment talking about variants in general. Mutations cause variants in viruses. When a virus such as COVID-19 infects your cells, it copies its RNA (ribonucleic acid, which shares similarities with DNA) to help it spread. Every once in a while, there is a copying mistake that causes a mutation in the virus. Mutations are random and typically harmless. However, occasionally, through complete chance, a mutation can make the virus more harmful. These mutations have led to the inception of the COVID-19 Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and now Delta variant.
Is the Delta Variant Contagious?
With that out of the way, it is time to focus on the Delta variant. The first important thing to know is that the Delta variant is highly contagious, much more so than previous variants. In the week of July 22, 2021, over 80% of new COVID-19 cases were caused by the Delta variant. In this case, the mutation that led to the Delta variant allowed it to be more efficient and transmissible. Having said that, symptoms for this variant remain the same.
Is the Vaccine Effective Against the Delta Variant?
Another important consideration for the Delta variant is how it affects unvaccinated people. As of the week of July 22, 97% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, proving the effectiveness of vaccines in fighting the Delta variant, even though breakthrough cases for vaccinated people are still present. So yes, there is the possibility of being infected with COVID for vaccinated people, but symptoms are much more mild.
All of these factors combined seem to be contributing to a higher number of cases among younger people and communities with lower vaccination rates. So what can I do to protect myself and those around me from becoming infected? First, get vaccinated if you can, as it is still the best way to protect yourself against the Delta variant and previous mutations. Even if you are vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors and in crowded areas is still recommended. There is still a lot to learn about COVID-19 and its variants, so recommendations from the CDC and your local leaders may change from time to time. But, at the end of the day, they are still the experts with the most up-to-date knowledge. Following their guidance on the virus and our understanding of how COVID evolves is crucial to help minimize hospitalizations.
Will There be More COVID-19 Variants?
The future of COVID-19 is very uncertain. There is a high likelihood that COVID-19 will continue to mutate into new variants. There is no way of knowing what these new versions might bring to the table, so it is vital to stay alert and be considerate in the fight against COVID-19. Get vaccinated if you can. Mask up, even if you are vaccinated. Avoid crowded areas if possible. Continue to listen to the experts.
Caring for Yourself and Loved Ones During the Pandemic
One final thing to consider is mental health. The purpose of this article is not to scare you or instill existential dread but rather to inform you. However, discussing COVID-19, the Delta variant, and other variants at any capacity can be distressing. This is why it is crucial to maintain a level head during the pandemic. Public health guidelines are important, but they can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. To combat this, make sure you are still communicating with loved ones and friends. Taking care of your body through diet and exercise will also help with mental health. Healthy body, healthy mind. Finally, make sure to allocate time to focus on yourself. Whether it’s reading a book, you enjoy or trying a new hobby you’ve been meaning to dip your toes in. Whatever it may be, just make sure to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.
Stay safe, and remember that we are all in this together.