It has been about 20 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and 16 months since McDonough County’s first cases.  Throughout this time we have seen some fantastic gains in terms of hosting mass vaccination clinics and about 50% of our residents have at least one dose of vaccine, which is exciting news!  Despite these victories, we still see an increase in COVID-19 cases both nationally and at our local county level.  Now, with the new Delta variant, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over, but evolving into new uncharted territories.

So how is Delta Different?

The Delta variant is a spike-protein mutation of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.  As you may remember from previous posts, spike-proteins are the spikes found on the surface of the virus, and in most pictures you have seen lately are depicted as red.  Our immune system uses these proteins to identify which virus is attacking the body, and scientists have used this to help create our current vaccines.  It’s not the first mutation, and Alpha, Beta, and Gamma variants have also been found throughout the United States.

In most ways, they are exactly alike, with similar symptoms of persistent cough, fever, loss of taste and smell, and other respiratory symptoms (Bernal et al., 2021).  The main way they differ in transmissibility.  The Delta variant has been proven to be more contagious, which will ultimately lead to more cases and more deaths.  And as you would expect with a change in the spike-protein, there is some evidence that vaccines are less effective at preventing the spread of this new variant, though still effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization.

Are the Vaccinated Vulnerable?

The rise of the Delta virus means that we may want to reconsider our safety measures.  For the unvaccinated, the risk for catching and transmitting the disease has been high the whole pandemic, and CDC guidance strongly recommends safety measures of staying at home and wearing masks indoors for this group.  Vaccinated people are still significantly less at risk for contracting COVID-19, and more importantly, the vaccine drastically reduces negative outcomes when a breakthrough case occurs.  The best prevention method for against COVID-19, even the Delta variant, is to get vaccinated!

For the vaccinated, the CDC has been monitoring the situation closely, frequently updating their guidelines to ensure that lessening restrictions is not at the expense of safety.  The CDC guidance for fully vaccinated individuals is less restrictive than for those who are unvaccinated.

Vaccinated people can enjoy the following:

  • Activities with friends and family that are also vaccinated
  • Domestic and International travel
  • Unmasked outdoor activities
  • Unmasked indoor activities in locations with low transmission, of which a map can be found here.  Because of the Delta variant, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in parts of the country with substantial or high transmission.  Unfortunately, this does include McDonough County right now, so consider wearing a mask to indoor locations even if you are vaccinated until rates reduce.

The Delta variant has changed the landscape of the pandemic in certain ways, but fortunately many of the safety measures are the same:  stay at home if you are ill, wear a mask as a courtesy to others, and most importantly get your vaccination.  Hopefully with enough participation in these activities we can see a reduction in transmission and prevent more cases and deaths within our county.