For many of us, our world is finally opening up after a year and a half trapped inside our safe-ish (but increasingly claustrophobia-inducing) homes. Maybe all the folks who can be vaccinated (including children 12 and over) in your household have been vaccinated (we appreciate you!) and you’ve now cautiously re-entered the world of people and camps and the outside.
Welp, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (actually, that’s a lie — I love bearing bad news to entitled racists, however I generally don’t enjoy it), but the Delta variant of COVID-19 has entered the chat and it’s not fucking around, accounting for approximately a quarter of all cases in the U.S. Unvaccinated people — including kids — are most vulnerable here, and it’s spreading mostly among younger people in places like the UK. Read on for what you need to know and how to protect your children.
What to know about the Delta variant
With so many strains of COVID, it’s understandable if it’s hard to keep track, and also, easy to dismiss. After all, it seems as if with each variant, scientists and public health officials are crying wolf but states are opening up and going maskless (please, don’t do this) despite the nationwide full vaccination rate being at a pathetic 47.6% (the fully vaxxed rate for people 12 and up is nominally better at 55.6%.
What is the big deal anyway? Here’s the quick and dirty on the variant that National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said is expected to be the dominant COVID strain in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.
The Delta variant is highly contagious
Originating in India, scientists report the Delta variant is about 60% more contagious than the original strain. For comparison, the Alpha variant from the UK (which was already alarming) was 50% more virulent.
Why is this bad?
In baby language, that means the Delta variant spreads more than twice as fast as the original — which is bad because it will most definitely speed up the pandemic. (I know, it’s like never-ending with this bullshit.)
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the Delta variant is “the fastest and fittest” version of the virus thus far and labeled it “a variant of concern,” a designation echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Incidentally, the Alpha variant earlier this year was also designated as such — and really, we should have learned from that experience but did we? No. The answer is, no.
It is possibly more dangerous than the other variants
One study has found Delta patients two times more likely to be hospitalized than those infected with the Alpha variant. Even if that is not found to be true over the long term, it is at least as dangerous as other variants — and really, come on. Why are we arguing about this?
Possible different symptoms
We’ve all gotten used to the original COVID symptoms of cough, fever, loss of smell or taste, right? Turns out, the signs of a Delta variant infection may diverge from typical COVID symptoms and lead to infected people inadvertently spreading it further. (Yaaaaayyyy.)
In fact, headache, sore throat, and runny nose are now the most frequently purported symptoms in the UK along with chills, appetite loss, and muscle aches. According to Professor Tim Spector who runs the Zoe Covid Symptom study, the Delta infection can feel “more like a bad cold” in younger people. And because it seems like just a head cold, they don’t take their symptoms seriously or get tested.
Expect “hyperlocal” outbreaks
Depending on an area’s vaccination rates (see aforementioned low achievers), there may be hotspots of the Delta variant popping up all over the country. This usually happens when pockets of low vaccinations are surrounded by areas with higher vaccination rates — and can allow the virus to popcorn from one poorly vaccinated area to another. If this is the case, it can also overwhelm local health care systems and lead to more deaths.
As always, containment of the pandemic is a race between vaccination rates and how quickly the virus can jump and spread amongst unvaccinated people. The worry is that if the Delta variant keeps infecting people, the U.S. could see an increase in new COVID cases and lead us back to a shutdown.
Who is the most vulnerable?
This really cannot be stressed enough. The most vulnerable to the Delta variant are the unvaccinated, kids and young people, and the immune compromised.
This is common sense, right? If you’re not vaccinated, of course you’re going to be more vulnerable to a more virulent strain. It also makes sense that children are at risk because vaccines for children under 12 are not yet approved (though they’re in the process of becoming so).
According to Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist Inci Yildirim, MD, PhD, kids and young people should be concerned. Dr. Yildirim told “Yale Medicine” that the same UK study showed that children and adults younger than 50 were 2.5 times more likely to be infected with the Delta variant. “As older age groups get vaccinated, those who are younger and unvaccinated will be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 with any variant,” said Dr. Yildirim. “But Delta seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants.”
And while children are still relatively unlikely to get severe cases of COVID or die, there is mounting evidence implying that a significant number of kids — even those with mild cases — go on to experience lingering symptoms for months after their illness. There are no exact numbers yet, but growing research suggests that a significant portion of kids could be these COVID “long haulers.”
Unsurprisingly, a disproportionate number of unvaccinated people reside in Southern and Appalachian states where vaccination rates are low. I’m side-eying you, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia! Break free from the stereotypes of your state; I believe in you! (Okay, this is not true, either. But you go on and be stubborn and die unnecessarily. Coolcoolcool.)
How to protect your unvaccinated children
If you’re like me and have unvaccinated children at home (I have four, pray for me), you might be rightly worried. Even though my area has a low infection rate, that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Here are some things you can do to protect your unvaccinated kids from the Delta variant.
Seriously. If you haven’t received your COVID vaccination yet, please, for the love of Peter Parker, what are you waiting for? Experts agree that fully vaccinated people are protected from the Delta variant whereas 99.2% of the hospitalizations and deaths in the last few months occurred among unvaccinated people.
Not only should your unvaccinated children wear masks, so should you. WHO is urging all people — even those who are fully vaccinated — to continue wearing face masks inside public spaces.
In addition, be aware of your area’s (or any place you’re traveling to) COVID and vaccination rates as well as familiarize yourself with the atypical symptoms of the Delta variant. Be especially vigilant if your child feels “off” and seems to have a particularly bad head cold.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.