If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve likely heard about the new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly and causing a whole new set of concerns for the health and wellness of citizens worldwide. The Delta variant is more than twice as contagious as previous variants, and there’s data that suggests it might cause more severe illness. In fact, the variant now accounts for nearly all of the country’s COVID-19 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest genomic surveillance data.
In late July, the CDC issued new guidelines stating that even fully vaccinated people should start masking again indoors if they live in an area where the virus is circulating widely. If there’s anything to be learned from the first onset of COVID-19 it’s that precautions must be taken quickly and seriously if we hope to overcome variants of this virus while keeping as many people safe and healthy as possible. Keep reading for answers to some of the most common questions about the Delta variant, particularly as it relates to our senior population.
Why are variants a cause for concern?
COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant which is receiving the most attention, seem to spread more easily than other coronavirus strains, according to the CDC. And ease of transmission may lead to more cases of COVID-19, which will put more strain on health care resources and lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more deaths.
How do I know if I have the Delta variant?
To detect the delta variant, a specific type of COVID-19 test is required — genomic sequencing. Genomic sequencing decodes the coronavirus’ complete set of genes and searches for new mutations. It also matches known variants. Labs at some state and local health departments have access to genomic sequencing. But more important than what variant you have is your overall health, how you’re impacted by the virus, and the course of action that needs to be taken to get you well.
How are the symptoms different?
Cold-like symptoms, including headache, runny nose, and a sore throat, now top the list in the ongoing study, while more traditional COVID-19 symptoms — loss of smell, shortness of breath, fever, and persistent cough — have since moved down. Though these may sound mild, they can quickly escalate into life-threatening conditions, just like the original coronavirus, particularly in older populations or those with weakened immune systems.
Do vaccines provide protection?
This is a complex question, but the simple answer is yes. Those who have been vaccinated are showing better resistance to the virus and those who do still contract it are less severely impacted. So vaccines are still highly recommended and useful. But the greater concern is for those who are not vaccinated either by choice or due to health circumstances. They may contract the Delta variant more easily, even from people who are showing no symptoms and who have been vaccinated. And if this occurs, they are less protected and may contract severe symptoms. All of the best practices for wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing still apply! When combined and used appropriately, these are your best tools for defense.
How can I protect myself and those I love?
The good news is you’re already equipped with the knowledge and best practices to keep yourself safe and protect those you love. Yes, that means it’s time to bring back to the masks (if you’ve stopped masking upon being vaccinated). Emerging research shows that while still rare, it is possible for vaccinated people to contract COVID-19. And if they’re infected with the delta variant, they may carry as much virus as an unvaccinated individual. In addition to masking, continue to wash your hands, sanitize surfaces, and be mindful of public spaces used by many people. If possible, avoid public spaces and large gatherings as much as possible especially as we enter into the fall and winter months where we often see an uptick in other viruses as well.
The most important thing to remember is to use common sense, follow recommendations, and extend kindness and compassion to others. This is a situation unlike the world as seen and we’ve all been impacted in unique ways. We’re working to do the best we can with the resources we have, and we’re all fighting on the same team!