Mutant coronavirus thwarts USA's "return to normal"

Delta variant passes via vaccinated and unvaccinated, driving infection and hospitalization rates in low-vaccine communities.

Just when you thought you could leave the house without a mask… the virus has a different plan.

While some people complain that the new CDC guidance on masks gives them whiplash, the mounting data makes the case pretty clearly that the delta variant warrants new layers of precaution. For example, an investigation of a COVID-19 cluster traced to a gymnastics facility in Oklahoma found 20% of people exposed at the facility and 53% of household contacts got COVID-19. That’s about three times higher than other COVID-19 strains.

Other studies explain why delta is more transmissible — and even can hitch a ride on infected but asymptomatic vaccinated individuals.

“The level of virus in the nasal pharynx is a thousand times higher’ with the delta variant, explains White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The rapid increase in new cases from coast to coast looks much like what happened across India not long ago. The only major difference is that India had few vaccine doses, while in the United States, vaccine doses are going unused despite being available in nearly every neighborhood of this nation.

As has been the case for the past month, the map of counties with “substantial” or “high” rates of COVID transmission corresponds almost exactly with communities where fewer than 40% of eligible people are vaccinated.

“This requires action,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who announced the new mask guidelines in a phone call with reporters. “This is not a decision we take lightly.”

That decision is to recommend that everyone in communities with substantial or high transmission wear a mask when going inside a public place. And, the CDC now says there should are universal masking in K-12 classrooms.

“Fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can transmit it to others,” the CDC says. It also revised advice for fully vaccinated people who develop possible symptoms, saying that fully vaccinated people with symptoms should isolate themselves and check with their doctor about testing and treatment.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb thinks the CDC data significantly undercounts new infections because it does not include many mildly symptomatic cases.

Putting this into practice:

  • What type of mask is best to protect against delta?

  • Masks are back at the White House, and the president says federal workers may be told to get vaccinated if they want to keep working.

  • Traveling? Israel, Spain and Portugal are now on the USA’s “don’t go” list because of the delta variant. Going somewhere within the USA? Wear a mask and bring that hand sanitizer if you are passing through or staying in one of the red spots on the CDC’s transmission map.

  • If you are in one of the places with high vaccination rates and low rates of new cases, then you can keep doing what you’ve been doing. In my area, with 86% of eligible people fully vaccinated, masks have quickly returned to being the norm inside grocery stores and other public spaces.

The bottom line: The pandemic is far from over, even if the vaccines are still working really well. Just think how many more people would be hospitalized or dead now without the vaccinations.

If you need more help on this, try answering the questions in this NPR article.

And some other news of note:

The Los Angeles Times compiled this timeline of the changing guidelines on mask use.

Got questions? Comments? Please share. Thanks for reading. Stay safe!

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