UPDATE: On Tuesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated the estimate of the percentage of Delta variant COVID-19 infections in the U.S. to 83 percent during testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
WARWICK, RI —The COVID-19 Delta variant, dominant in the U.S., more contagious, more likely to put you in the hospital, increases severe illness risk in the unvaccinated, drawing conflicting masking messages, but no call yet for Warwick Schools.
Delta variant cases of COVID-19 account for 57.6 percent of cases in the United States, according to the CDC. In Region 1, which includes RI, CT, MA, NH, VT, and ME, the percent cases that are Delta variant (B1.617.2) is 11.6%. The strain was first identified in India in December and first recorded in the U.S. in March.
When asked whether the district had considered its fall masking policy when school starts in about seven weeks, Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Judy Cobden said it’s too early to make decisions on the matter. Warwick Schools Superintendent Lynn Dambruch could not be immediately reached.
People who have been fully vaccinated are fortunate, since the vaccines distributed in the U.S. have been proven effective, even against the Delta variant, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in a C-SPAN interview Monday.
“The only people who are being essentially hospitalized today, with severe disease, are our friends who are unvaccinated,” Schaffner said.
Student masks: CDC, AAP disagree
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended Monday that all students wear masks indoors as part of what they described as a layered approach to make school safe for all students, teachers and staff.
“That includes a recommendation that everyone older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status,” according to the AAP statement on the advice.
Delta variant: How much more contagious?
Two COVID-19 variants, Alpha (B.1.1.7), the U.K. variant and Beta (B.1.351), the South Africa variant—are each 50 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, Chair-elect of the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees and AMA liaison to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
The Delta variant is 60 percent more transmissible than that, Fryhofer said.
Evidence suggests Delta doubles COVID-19 risk of hospitalization
Risk of COVID-19 hospital admission was about double in those with the Delta variant compared to the Alpha variant, according to a study on the severity of the strain in Scotland published in the Lancet.
Delta still mutating
As early as May 12, the WHO reported the Delta variant continues to mutate, with sub-strains that are more contagious and more lethal, showing “potential reduced effectiveness of Bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody used for COVID-19 treatment, and potentially slightly reduced susceptibility to neutralisation antibodies.”
Unvaccinated aid COVID-19 mutations
Unvaccinated people give viruses more chances to mutate, Schaffner said.
“In order to create variants, the virus has to multiply in people. It can only spread in unvaccinated people at present time. When it does that it multiplies millions, if not billions, of times,” with a chance to mutate each of those times, he said.
“Most of these mutations are harmless. but every once in a while, you get one or a series of mutations that can create a new variant,” which is what happened with the Delta variant, he said. It mutated in one infected person and spread to threaten the U.S. and several other countries.
“So there is a potential for an unvaccinated person, whether they live here or anywhere else, if they get infected with the virus, they could be the source of a new variant that threatens the country, and the world,” Shaffner said.
RI Department of Health COVID-19 tips on protecting your family
Whether or not you’re vaccinated
- You still need to wear a mask:
- If a business, school, camp, healthcare setting, or other entity requires it
- On public transportation like planes, buses, and trains
- When providing or using paid ground transportation services
- In transportation hubs like airports and stations
- In enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stops and waiting areas
- If working in a healthcare setting where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated
- When required by other federal laws or regulations
- Learn more about current masking requirements in our Rhode Island Masking FAQ.
- Choose safer activities depending on whether or not you’re fully vaccinated.
- If you travel outside the US and US territories, learn what’s required on our travel page.
- Watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick.
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate at home, call your healthcare provider, and get a COVID-19 test.
- Get treatment if you’re eligible. If you’ve tested positive, ask your doctor right away about MABS.
- If you have a medical condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, talk to your healthcare provider about your activities. Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you may need to keep protecting yourself from COVID-19 by following the unvaccinated guidance below.
If you’re not fully vaccinated
- Get vaccinated.
- You may get vaccinated if you’re 12 or older. Setting up an appointment is quick and easy.
- COVID-19 vaccines are safe, highly effective against serious illness, and reduce the risk of infecting others.
- Vaccination helps protect against COVID-19 variants by reducing their spread.
- Learn what changes once you’re fully vaccinated.
- Get tested every week. Sign up for a free test at portal.ri.gov or by calling 401-222-8022.
- With COVID-19 variants of concern in Rhode Island, it’s even more important to get vaccinated, get tested weekly, and wear a mask and watch your distance indoors near anyone you don’t live with.
- Continue to take it outside. Open windows and doors to increase air flow when you’re indoors near people you don’t live with.
- Outdoors, continue to wear a mask in crowded places or during activities where you’re in close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
- Stay home and apart from others if you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or if you are in quarantine or isolation.
- Remember the three Ws!
- Wear a mask indoors that’s at least two layers thick and fits snugly but comfortably over your nose, mouth, and chin without any gaps.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or carry and use hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
- Watch your distance by staying at least three feet apart indoors from people you don’t live with.
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