Will Delta Variant Send U.S. Reeling Back to Square One?

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in America, 300,779 new cases were reported in a single day. On January 8, 2021, COVID-19 appeared to be spiraling out of control.

As of July 6, six months later, the seven-day average for daily new cases in the U.S. had fallen to 12,914.

This dramatic drop – accompanied by the loosening of restrictions and facemask mandates – was attributed to several factors. Including the number of Americans who had been vaccinated and an increased adherence to safety protocols. 

So, are we now out of the woods? Will the biggest news story of the past two years finally fade into the background? Are we about to get back to “normal?” Or is this merely the calm before the Delta variant storm?

Will We Fall in the Fall?

The jury is still out on this. The numbers are certainly encouraging. I never thought I’d say that 12,000-plus Americans testing positive for a disease on a daily basis is “encouraging.” But by comparison, it is. And those numbers are dropping.

But what’s going to happen this fall and winter when people start spending a much larger percentage of their time indoors?

What will those numbers look like when people return to work in close quarters with each other? And when grade school, high school and college students start closely interacting again?

And even before then, will the rapidly emerging Delta variant prove too much for vaccines to handle? Or perhaps crush unvaccinated segments of the population? Right now it’s all up in the air. But medical experts have their opinions.

Delta Variant Causing Concern

In May, the World Health Organization labeled the Delta variant (formally known as B.1.617.2) as “a variant of concern.” It is one of four variants to emerge from India during its recent COVID-19 surge.

Of course, there are other variants being watched closely. Including the Alpha strain from the U.K., the Beta strain from South Africa and the Gamma strain from Brazil. The Alpha strain has been the dominant variant in the U.S.

But the Delta variant is at least 60 percent more transmissible within households than the Alpha strain.

Medical experts accurately predicted that the Delta variant would become the dominant variant in America. And now there’s a Delta Plus variant beginning to spread.

‘Worst We’ve Seen So Far’

In China, patients infected with the Delta variant have seen their symptoms develop faster and grow more severe than those infected with other variants. 

Dr. Eric Topol is founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. He calls the Delta variant “the worst we’ve seen so far.”

The U.K. government had planned to reopen England on June 21. But then Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced it would be delayed at least one month.

Here in the U.S., Delta variant cases were doubling every two weeks as of this writing. It now accounts for 51.7 percent of new cases in America.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “It’s essentially taking over.” He added that the Delta variant is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s efforts to eliminate COVID-19 

Vaccines Find Delta Challenging

Dr. Michael Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Here’s what he said.

“I think that with the data we have, there’s a good chance that (the Delta variant) could take over… as the primary variant just because it’s more infectious. It’s going to create a real additional challenge.”

So far, approved vaccines in the U.S. are proving to be generally effective against the Delta variant. But not as effective as they’ve been against the Alpha strain.

Eleanor Riley is the University of Edinburgh immunologist. She said the vaccines provide “somewhat less protection against infection with the Delta variant.”

Keep That Mask Handy

Ali Mokdad is a public health researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.

He expects the number of new cases in America to rise this fall and winter as people spend more time indoors and in close proximity to each other.

But he added that mask wearing could go a long way to keeping the number of new cases from rising dramatically.

“Come winter… we expect a rise in cases and we’ll be swimming upstream,” he said. “We have a problem coming. Please, wear your mask.”

‘Breakthrough Cases’

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, we neither recommend nor discourage people from getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

We believe this is a personal decision. People should make it based on what they believe to be best for themselves and their families. But we do report vaccine-related statistics and comments from medical experts.

For example, 3,791 fully-vaccinated people in Massachusetts had tested positive for COVID-19 as of mid-June. The number seems high on the surface. But it represents only one in every 1,000 fully-vaccinated individuals.

And a vast majority of those “breakthrough” cases were asymptomatic. Or very mild and brief in duration. 

What About the Seasonal Flu?

Lost in all the talk about the pandemic has been the seasonal flu. Last season was a light one for the flu. Although it appears some health agencies ignored it while focusing on the coronavirus.

Both the number of reported cases and deaths from flu were far below average in 2019-20. It’s assumed precautions taken against COVID-19 worked well to prevent the flu’s spread.

Medical experts also speculate the coronavirus may have outcompeted or interfered with the flu. Does that mean flu will return with a vengeance this fall and winter? Some medical personnel think so.

Richard Webby is an influenza specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He said, “The worst flu season we ever had may be coming.”

One epidemiologist predicts it will be “a doozy of a (flu) season.”

Please do whatever you can to protect yourself from the coronavirus and all other respiratory diseases. Staying healthy should be our top priority.

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