Like many others, I had hoped as we ventured towards 2022 with the new COVID vaccines that our nation was winning the war against the coronavirus. As a researcher, I have been actively tracking and reviewing worldwide COVID studies since its onset in early 2020. With nearly 51% of Americans over the age of 12 fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (and 61% having received at least one shot) as of August 19, 2021, one could reasonably think that a “return to a semi-normal state” was within sight. Once fully vaccinated, many were more comfortable relaxing some precautions and enjoying activities, like eating at restaurants, shopping, attending worship services, and socializing with vaccinated friends, that we had refrained from during the height of pandemic fears. However, a new variant of the potentially deadly virus has emerged…and with it, new dangers that mean we’re not out of the woods just yet! Dr. Francis Collins said on Fox News in Mid-August 2021“The US could soon see COVID-19 cases return to 200,000 a day, a level not seen since among the pandemic’s worst days in January and February, the director of the National Institutes of Health warned. While the US currently is seeing an average of about 129,000 new infections a day – a 700% increase from the beginning of July – that number could jump in the next couple of weeks. I will be surprised if we don’t cross 200,000 cases a day in the next couple of weeks, and that’s heartbreaking considering we never thought we would be back in that space again,” Collins said.
COVID variants are named using the Greek alphabet. The Alpha variant was discovered in England, Beta in South Africa, Gamma in Brazil, and Lambda in South America. The latest Delta variant of COVID-19 was first identified in India in December 2020. Since then, Delta is present in 132 countries including the United States, where it is now the dominant variant. The virus is responsible for more than 90% of the new US COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Scientists are very concerned with the rapid spread of the variant, as well as its seeming capability to infect even vaccinated people and children at much higher rates than previous virus strains. Each virus has its own DNA genetic makeup. When tested, infected individuals don’t know which variant they have but government laboratories take samples to estimate the incidence of any given variant. It’s interesting that a variant in Dallas, TX might be different from a similar mutation in New York, NY, which can then be traced back to their originating countries. Coronavirus DNA is like a person’s passport or driver’s license.
When a virus replicates or spreads, errors or mutations occur in their genetic material. Sometimes, two different viruses combine in a person at the same time to create a new variant that spreads to others. Most mutations are not dangerous, but in the case of the Delta variant, it becomes stronger. Earlier, weaker variants killed more than 600,000 Americans and Delta is far more dangerous and infectious. Research notes that the more people who are infected in the US with the Delta Variant, it’s likely, even stronger variants may appear and follow in the future. Because the Delta variant has only recently become an urgent issue in the US, researchers and scientists are still working to determine how it operates and why it’s so dangerous. Although there is much confusion and sometimes contradictory information out there, it’s important that we do our best to understand this threat so that we know how to protect ourselves and others.
Here’s what we know right now about the Delta variant which is in a constant flux as scientists learn more about the ravaging virus:
It’s highly contagious. In an internal CDC report obtained by the New York Times, the CDC said that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is as contagious as chickenpox! Some of us remember the days of the measles and chickenpox where, without vaccines, nearly everyone contracted the viruses in the 1950’s. The CDC document, which was created by analyzing numerous studies on COVID, also noted that the Delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses that cause SARS, 1918 Spanish Flu, Ebola, smallpox, common colds, and the seasonal flu! Even amongst the other strains that the CDC has labeled “variants of concern,” Delta stands out for how quickly it spreads. In a recent Yale School of Medicine article by Kathy Katella, epidemiologist Dr. Perry Wilson noted that the Delta variant was spreading 50% faster than Alpha variant, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus. In other words, it’s double trouble! The average infected person with the original virus spreads to 1-3 people whereas the Delta Variant spreads from one individual to 5-8 people. If you use a low number of 6 people with the Delta COVID (with or without symptoms) as your multiplier, 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6, six infected people could theoretically transmit the disease to more than 46,000 people!
But why is the Delta variant moving so quickly? A study comparing those infected in the first outbreak versus those with the Delta variant found that the mutant “grows more rapidly inside people's respiratory tracts and to much higher levels,” as reported by Michaeleen Doucleff of NPR. The study showed that the potent Delta variant sufferers had 1000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those with the original strain of COVID-19—which means that they release more virus into the air when they cough, sing, laugh, shout, talk, and breathe. People who are carrying the Delta variant become infectious sooner, according to the same study: although the original form of the virus takes about six days to become detectable within a person, the Delta variant incubates in four days. Thus, you can obtain a COVID test at the four-day mark but, if you test negative with a PCR test, then re-test 2-3 days later to be ensure you’re not infected. You can purchase fast home COVID tests at most drug stores but they are less reliable than the PCR which is administered at many pharmacies where results are obtained within two days.
It can make you sicker than other variants. Studies conducted in Canada and Scotland have found that people who contract the Delta variant are more likely to be hospitalized than those with the original strain of the virus. (The Scottish study, which was published in The Lancet, suggests that the risk of hospitalization with the Delta variant is twice that of the Alpha variant.). And, when infected with the Delta strain, individuals can spread the virus earlier, are sicker, and infectious for longer periods of time as compared to the original virus.
Vaccinated people can contract and spread the Delta variant. No vaccine is 100% effective. There’s always a chance that vaccinated people can still get sick, whether it comes to COVID or other illnesses like the flu. Sadly, this lesson struck close to home when my former neighbor, Dr. Cary Washington, became ill from the coronavirus and died…30 days after being “fully inoculated.” WIS-TV and USA Today described his ordeal in detail. He unfortunately represents one of the roughly known 8,000+ vaccine “breakthrough” COVID cases resulting in hospitalization noted as of August 2021, and one of the approximately 1,600 deaths noted amongst fully vaccinated individuals.
Dr. Washington’s case and tragic death, however, is uncommon, but breakthroughs are occurring at a higher rate when exposed to the Delta Variant. All of the COVID vaccinations under approval by the FDA in America are highly effective, and those who are vaccinated are much less likely to get seriously ill, be hospitalized, or die than if they were unvaccinated. In part, this is because immune defenses from the vaccinations typically destroy the virus before it reaches the lungs, preventing it from causing serious breathing issues.
In the August 18, 2021, Wall Street Journal, Hopkins and Whelan reported “The Delta variant of COVID-19 virus appears to be breaking through the protective vaccines at a higher rate than previous strains…US states counted at least 196,204 breakthrough cases among vaccinated people between January 1, 2021, and early August, according to data from 44 state health departments.” The number appears to be higher since the CDC and states, like South Carolina, don’t count breakthroughs (other than hospitalizations and deaths) and many unknowingly people who have been fully vaccinated may be asymptomatic.
According to recent studies in Israel, which began inoculating its population earlier than the US in January 2020, agreed to pay Pfizer higher amounts for its vaccine, and to share with Pfizer all of its COVID related statistics, found that the Pfizer vaccine begins to decline about 6% per month in its protection after vaccination. And most recent reports that after six months, the Pfizer vaccine could lower its protections against the Delta Variant to 39-42%. An internal document obtained by the Wall Street Journal that the Delta Variant could cause thousands of symptomatic weekly breakthroughs in the near future. That’s why the White House, in collaboration with the CDC and FDA, announced that booster shoots are needed by everyone who is fully vaccinated to begin September 20, 2021.
We have written extensively about the vaccines which can be found at www.mikedubose.com/blog/should-i-take-the-covid-19-vaccine. The vaccines are not 100% effective but they are about 90% effective in keeping you from hospitalization and death. According to national averages, more than 95% of the hospitalized COVID cases are unvaccinated patients which shows that the vaccines are working!
Vaccinated people who contract Delta can spread it, too. In terms of overall “breakthrough” cases (which could be so minor that the symptoms are unnoticed or attributed to a cold or an allergy), only about .04% of fully vaccinated people have reported contracting COVID. Fully vaccinated individuals who are infected with the Delta variant have been found to carry just as much of the virus in their respiratory tracts as unvaccinated individuals. Reporting on the internal CDC document obtained by the New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli wrote, “Detailed analysis of the spread of cases showed that people infected with Delta carry enormous amounts of virus in their nose and throat, regardless of vaccination status.”
To bring the statistics home to South Carolina, let’s review the COVID hospital and death statistics from the SCDHEC for the period July 1-31, 2021:
Number of cases: 26,848 (88% were not fully vaccinated)
Number of COVID Hospitalizations: 550 (77% were not full vaccinated)
Number of Deaths: 87 (79% were not fully vaccinated)
When we look at South Carolina August 2021 statistics, the 14-day “daily” average jumped 65% to 3,400 cases. The number of COVID deaths for the month of August has doubled (187) as of August 20, 2021, as compared to entire month of July. The Delta Variant is growing at an alarming rate!
Can children get sick with the Delta Variant? Are they safe? Politicians promoted in the early stages of COVID virus that children were immune and not to worry! And children tended to be more resistant to the original strains. Rick Barr, MD, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Associate Dean at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science reported in August that the Delta Variant is acting differently with children this time with more impact on their respiratory systems. Since the beginning of the coronavirus, 3,672,371 children have been infected as of July 2021. According to NPR research, 94,000 children were infected within one week in August 2021! "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated the numbers have been climbing since early July; from July 31 to Aug. 6, 216 children with Covid were being hospitalized every day, on average, nearly matching the 217 daily admissions during the pandemic’s peak in early January. This virus is really tracking the unvaccinated," said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Stanford University. Because children under 12 are not able to be vaccinated, we're just seeing the same increase in infections in that group because the delta variant is so infectious.” “They’re the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Stanford Medicine and chair of the A.A.P. Committee on Infectious Diseases.
In states where data was available, less than 2% of all child COVID-19 cases required hospitalization and up to .03% were fatal. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the percentage of the total US COVID cases among children now has grown to 19%, while other research posts the infection rate among youth at 22%. The report went on to say, “Many children hospitalized with Covid are sicker than those of earlier variants.” Scientists are concerned that cases are rapidly spiking as schools open up, many of which no longer require masks and social distancing, while some states don’t require parents be notified when a student in a classroom that tested positive to begin quarantine. According to our research, less than 500 children in the US have died from Covid which would seems like “great news” unless one of those children or grandchildren was yours!
In an August 19, 2021, State News article by Andrew Caplan reported that twice as many South Carolina children are being infected by COVID. State Epidemiologist Linda Bell stated, “I’m greatly concerned that this school year could be a perfect storm for disease spread if we have unvaccinated and unmasked children and teachers together.” South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, pediatricians, and other teacher unions have echoed the same concern.
If my child contracts COVID with a mild-moderate case, are there long-term complications? Many individuals who are infected with COVID-19 recover completely. But for some adults and children (up to 30%), the condition that’s referred to as “Long COVID” can last for months — maybe even years. The research indicated that a significant number of adults and children had lingering heart-related and other issues after their recovery (headaches, fatigue, psychiatric problems, etc.). More is written about the long-term effects of being infected by COVID in our earlier articles www.mikedubose.com/blog/coronavirus and https://www.mikedubose.com/blog/is-it-safe-to-return-to-churches-gyms-and-restaurants.
I have been infected with COVID. Can I be reinfected? Do I need the vaccine? According to an August 2021 USA article by Andrianna Rodriguez and other studies we have examined, “Although antibodies from natural infection may provide some protection against the virus, evidence shows nothing protects against Covid-19 better than vaccines” and previously infected individuals can be reinfected with the Delta Variant. The article went on to say that “People reinfected with the virus are more likely to be asymptomatic, which increases the chances that they will spread the virus to others.” The research indicates that second infections often are mild but some can result in hospitalizations. However, even one vaccine shot after they have recovered for infected people and not vaccinated can significantly increase their antibodies.
Masking can help limit the spread (Pros and Cons). Because the Delta variant can still be spread by vaccinated people—and since people with Delta have the potential to spread so many more copies of the virus—it’s important to wear a quality mask to protect those around you, even if you are vaccinated. We have researched various masks which can be accessed at www.mikedubose.com/blog/do-i-really-need-to-wear-a-mask. Individuals with “breakthrough” cases may not even know they are sick (especially if symptoms are mild, thinking they were allergy-related or they are asymptomatic). But they can unknowingly spread the virus to very young, old, or immunocompromised folks who could become very ill or even die.
To address the risks presented by the Delta variant, the latest CDC updated its guidelines in July 2021 to recommend that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks indoor public settings (such as bars, malls, houses of worship, concert venues, and restaurants) where the potential for transmission is high. Notably, the CDC now recommends that all teachers, staff, students, and visitors wear masks in schools. This can help protect children, who are seeing rising numbers of cases due to the Delta Variant’s extreme contagiousness.
The CDC staff, while they provide incredible resources during this novel virus, has been unreliable and inconsistent in their messaging to the public. In early 2020, the message was don’t wear masks; then, we need to wear masks; followed by fully vaccinated individuals don’t need masks; and now, we are back to wearing masks! Even the former Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that the Trump and Biden administrations made serious errors giving the public mixed messages about masks and the CDC should have never recommended that we stop wearing masks as a preventive measure. When a wedding and reception with unmasked attendees in Massachusetts resulted in 274 symptomatic infections where 74% were “fully vaccinated,” testing and tracing by the Massachusetts health department revealed that 90% were infected with the Delta coronavirus. The CDC changed course and now recommends that everyone (the vaccinated and unvaccinated) wear masks while visiting indoor public places.
On a different perspective on mask wearing amongst children, Marty Makary, MD and Cody Meissner, MD take an opposing perspective on mask wearing in the August 9th Wall Street Journal reporting that the data and research on children wearing masks is mixed. Some of their findings are that masks are not for all children. Masks that are moist can lead to pathogen build up that can cause other illnesses. They pointed out that mask wearing can create anxiety and the fogging of glasses. Another observation was that the quality of many masks worn by children are of poor quality and not on the same level as an N95 or KN95 mask. They suggested that “Special attention should be paid to the many children who struggle with masks.” We suggest that parents research mask quality, have a candid conversation about masks with their child, and rotate masks daily to ensure they are clean, advising them not to touch the front of the mask where the virus can live. We have to remember that the health of our children is paramount regardless of our political views or what the media is pushing.
What’s next? Scientists believe that a “booster shot” specifically modified to attack the Delta variant (in addition to the two doses previously taken for those who received the Pfizer or Moderna shots) may be helpful in further protecting vaccinated individuals. Other researchers suggest that, because Delta seems to flourish particularly well in the nose, another vaccine could be developed that is delivered as a nasal spray instead of a shot. Pfizer and Moderna are both reportedly working on booster shots for their vaccines (although they have not yet been FDA-approved). Pfizer’s Dr. Michael Dolsten reported that a Pfizer third shot increased antibodies from five- to 10-fold compared to their second shot and we will most likely need annual boosters like the flu shots. Israel has begun Pfizer booster shots for all citizens over the age of 50.
Try to live a somewhat normal life: Remember to respect the virus and not fear it. The coronavirus will be with us for a while so we need to figure out how to live with it! You can’t sit at home watching television and staying isolated. Humans are social animals and we need to socialize and be around others safely within reason. Here are some practical tips to consider:
1. Limit your television viewing since much of the media is filled with negative activities. Being isolated, watching too much TV, and being scared can impair your mental health and increase your chances of depression and anxiety. It’s important to read and listen to liberal, moderate, and conservative views to gain balanced perspectives.
2. Watch movies together if you are married. While you might not go out to the theatre, there are a lot of fun, thrilling, and educational movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.
3. Get out of the house every day even if it just means you ride around for a while. Think about other activities you can do to escape and enjoy life, such as gardening, in the cool morning hours.
4. While you might want to order your groceries on-line and pick them up (which we found to be a neat way to secure your groceries safely and quickly), go to the grocery store occasionally but wear two masks (a quality mask plus a thin, cheap surgical one over it). Ask customer service when crowds are lowest. If you see groups of people in an aisle, come back to that area later. You need to go out into the world but safely.
5. Avoid high-touch areas like gyms unless you can socially distance, clean your hands and the equipment, plus wear a quality mask. Always carry a bottle of sanitizer with you. Be careful about opening public doors like mall entrances which hundreds of others have touched. Take a tissue with you to open doors and throw away afterwards or use sanitizer.
6. Be extra careful about being indoors with dense crowds where it is difficult to follow the CDC guidelines and socially distance such as 6’ apart in worship services, sporting events, restaurants, grocery stores, malls, etc. You need to be in control of your setting so people don’t crowd beside or around you. If you go where there is singing (such as your church), wear two masks (but don’t take them off during the service) and sit on the back row or an isolated area to socially distance and avoid someone singing behind you. Remember that heated breath is the main carrier of the virus. MIT associate professor, Lydia Bourouiba, wrote in a Journal of the American Medicine Association article that "peak exhalation speeds of viruses can reach up to 33 to 100 feet per second, creating a cloud that can span approximately 23 to 27 feet." Another option is to live stream the service but avoid being separated every week with your social support networks. We have found that while Internet live streaming is a good option, it’s not the same as being with the congregation. But, if you feel unsafe, then stay home. You will find that you will be in the minority being protective with wearing masks in church.
7. Socialize with others who have been vaccinated where you can sit outside or socially distance. Consider installing HVAC virus-killing UV lights in homes and organizations. Turn on ceiling fans and open the outside doors to promote ventilation when visitors are present to reduce the risk of infection.
8. The enclosed car is very dangerous if someone in the car is infected. When passengers outside of your home are riding with you, crack the car’s windows and ensure that the air conditioning or heating systems pull in fresh, outside air. Turn off the Re-circulate air button (it has a car with a circle arrow on it) which recycles inside air. This restriction is automatically turned on when the MAX AIR is selected. Ventilation is very important in virus spread.
9. Travel is good medicine but do so safely. Be sure to disinfect hotel rooms, wear masks inside the hallways, and be cautious. Look for restaurants while travelling that serve food outside or order food to-go. Soon, after Labor Day, the beach will be appealing and safer after the crowds have left!
10. Daily exercise is good for both the mind and body. Walk in your neighborhood early in the morning since you will not need a mask outside and if you run into neighbors, socially distance while talking. Walking in malls at early hours is relatively safe with a mask or if few people are present, you can remove your mask at times. Just dodge and avoid walking behind people.
11. Clean and organize your home. It’s a good time to clean out the clutter in your home or garage and sell things on eBay and Facebook Marketing or donate to worthy charities.
12. If you need home repairs inside, ask the contractors to wear a mask as well as yourself. Then, disinfect any areas they may have touched and air out your home.
13. Find a purpose. Identify something you are passionate about (even going back to your youth or young adulthood) and have some fun! Explore new interests like cooking or painting. As we age, it’s important we also be involved in mind-challenging activities.
14. Go to a restaurant outside. It’s safer to meet friends outside with good ventilation and shade. But avoid inside dining where HVAC systems can circulate the heated, infected breath of others.
15. Call friends and those in need. You might not be able to meet with people but make it a practice to call someone, especially if you know they are suffering. A phone call can go a long way to lift both your spirits and theirs.
16. If spiritual, have a daily devotion as a couple (if married) in the morning to get your day started. Our Daily Bread is excellent for Christians, coupled with Bible verses, inspirational readings, and prayer. Regardless of your religion, think about a higher power when beginning your daily life.
The Bottom Line: Just when it was starting to look safe and return to a relatively “normal” life, here comes the Delta variant! Scientists say that it’s impossible to predict how the Delta mutations will behave in the future, but they know it’s going to get worse! This highly contagious Delta strain of the coronavirus means we need to keep practicing COVID safety measures such as masking and socially distancing in public places and washing or sanitizing our hands thoroughly after touching shared surfaces. Although it’s important to note that the vaccines are still highly effective, it’s always better to be safe, within reason, rather than sorry! Let’s try to get through this storm together.
Mike DuBose has been an instructor for USC’s graduate school since 1985 when he began his family of companies. He is a contributing guest author for Midland's Biz and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Please visit our blog for additional published business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health articles written with Surb Guram, MD.
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