What Is the Delta Variant and How Does It Affect Us?

By Allison Benz

On August 1, 2021, new recorded cases of COVID-19 in Lancaster County jumped to 111 from 0 just a few days before. The jump in cases is happening throughout the country and healthcare professionals and medical experts fear that the fourth wave of the pandemic is underway. They determined that the Delta variant is driving the fourth wave—about 93% of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the United States are attributed to Delta.

Delta Variant: How viruses mutate

Viruses reproduce by invading a cell and hijacking it to produce copies of themselves. They have appendages—spike proteins, for example—that allow them to penetrate the host cell for reproduction. Sometimes “mutations” or errors occur in their RNA sequencing as they reproduce; the mutations can be neutral or detrimental to the virus, or they can enhance the virus, making it more virulent as is the case in Delta. For more information about virus mutations, check this YouTube video produced by the World Health Organization.

Delta is causing the nationwide spike of COVID-19. First discovered in India, it is highly contagious and easily transmissible because of the mutation in the spike proteins. Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains… [i]t is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.” What does she mean by aggressive? As Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the Chief Scientist at WHO, explained in early July, “[The Delta variant] is both more transmissible than the previous variant and also has been able to resist the antibodies that we have in our blood. So… you need a higher level of antibodies to overcome this variant as compared to… the Alpha variant.”

What we can do about Delta

With Delta running rampant throughout the country, some places with high levels of COVID-19 transmissions require both unvaccinated and vaccinated people to wear masks.  The CDC defines a “high” level of transmission as places with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period and a “substantial” level of transmission as areas with between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 people. As of August 6, CDC indicates there is a substantial level of spread in Lancaster County.

Lancaster County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not require masks indoors or outdoors, but the CDC strongly encourages masking up again. Even vaccinated people can be infected with coronavirus and carry transmissible viral loads: Dr. Walensky said, “High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus.” Even if you are vaccinated, it is recommended to wear masks and wash your hands to reduce the risks of catching and transmitting Delta. You can see all of the CDC’s new mask guidelines here.

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

LNP, the local newspaper in Lancaster County, reports that as of the morning of August 6, 2021, Lancaster County recorded 248,465 people as fully vaccinated (46.15%) and 19,473 people as partially vaccinated (3.5%).

Vaccines are not perfect, but they remain our best defense against COVID-19. Statistics show that while breakthrough infections can still occur, vaccines are good at preventing hospitalization and nearly perfect at preventing death from COVID-19. With the rise of COVID-19 cases caused by Delta, experts strongly encourage people to get shots.

FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) are safe and effective, and CDC recommends that all people over 12 years old be vaccinated with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require both doses of the vaccine to fully protect you, so if you have one dose of either vaccine, you will need to schedule the second shot. For those who have Pfizer-BioNTech, your second shot will need to be in 3 weeks after your first vaccine. For Moderna, get your second shot 4 weeks after your first vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose, which may be a better option for some people. 

Visit the CDC vaccine information pages to find out which vaccine works best for you. And to find more information about the vaccination effort in Lancaster and where to get vaccinated, go to https://vaccinatelancaster.org/.

The resources on this site should not replace professional medical care. Readers should consult their medical providers to discuss their healthcare needs.

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