Commentary

Delta Variant 101: What you need to know to protect yourself | Thursday Morning Coffee

July 22, 2021 7:35 am

TCF Center in Detroit, a COVID-19 vaccination site (Photo via the Michigan Advance

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Delta variant of COVID-19, a highly transmissible strain that’s been rampaging across the country. If you haven’t, here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:

It’s bad. Like, really bad.

As Trish Zornio, of our sibling site, Colorado Newsline, reports, early estimates suggest the new strain may be 35 percent to 60 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant, another mutated strain that was already 43 percent to 90 percent more transmissible than the original.

Below, from Zornio, a more comprehensive Q&A about the Delta variant, and what you need to do to keep you and your family safe.

COVID-19 vaccine is stored at -80 degrees celsius in the pharmacy at Roseland Community Hospital on December 18, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The hospital began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to its workers yesterday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Are vaccines still working against the Delta variant?

Yes, the vaccines still work against the Delta variant — but only if you’re fully vaccinated.

The Pfizer vaccine — which is similar to Moderna’s — is currently showing an 88 percent effectiveness against the Delta variant, with early evidence suggesting it holds up to 96 percent effectiveness against hospitalization. Even though it’s slightly reduced in efficacy, these are still excellent protections.

Meanwhile, partially vaccinated people may see as little as 33% efficacy for protecting against illness, and they join the unvaccinated in being more likely to get hospitalized. In short, getting the vaccine in full is key, and you should get the second dose if you haven’t yet.

Should I wear a mask?

Maybe. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to issue an update, given that even mild cases might be associated with long-term health effects, it’s wise to be cautious. Particularly if you live in a region with low full vaccination rates — which still constitutes over half the United States — wearing a mask might make sense.

As a general guideline, if you are entering an indoor space and cannot verify the vaccine status of those in the room, wear a mask. If, however, you are entering a well ventilated space with others who are vaccinated and equally cautious, the risk is substantially lower and may not warrant face coverings.

(Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, an emergency department physician at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, receives Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Mon., 12/14/20)

Should I travel?

It is possible to travel reasonably safely if you are vaccinated, but your travel might look a little different than usual. Just as you may consider the weather or time of year for destinations, now you may want to avoid destinations with low vaccination rates or active outbreaks — particularly if you have children under age 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated. You may also want to avoid crowded spaces, bring a mask and, if you must fly, select airlines that require vaccination for boarding.

My family won’t get vaccinated. Can I still visit?

Visiting an unvaccinated family member comes with higher risk, especially to the person who is unvaccinated. Even with the vaccine, it might be possible for a vaccinated member to transmit the Delta variant due to slightly lower efficacies. Accepting this risk is your family’s choice; however the price of the gamble is high. Working to get family members vaccinated is the best bet, and reminding them of the risks to themselves amid the more transmissible Delta variant may help.

Could Delta lead to new variants that fully evade vaccines?

Possibly. Experts have repeatedly warned that if we do not reduce cases and increase our herd immunity against the virus we are likely to see more mutations. While some mutations are irrelevant, some are not. Already there is a Delta-plus variant on the heels of this one. As cases increase we could easily see more.

The science behind vaccines is solid, and at least for now they are holding out against variants. But this may not always be the case. Getting vaccinated soon is absolutely our best defense against not only this variant but also against variants to come.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
State officials have moved to decertify voting machines in south-central Pennsylvania’s Fulton County after local officials allowed a third-party to scrutinize “key components” of the county’s voting system, Cassie Miller reports.

It’s believed that an unauthorized document with the health information of 76,000 Pennsylvanians has been scrubbed from the internet, the state’s top health official told a legislative panel on Wednesday. Marley Parish has what you need to know.

Now that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has softened his stance on voter identification, Republican lawmakers in the state House say they’re taking another run at rewriting the state’s election codeMarley Parish also reports.

The Wolf administration has announced its first round of fixes to Pennsylvania’s nursing home regulations. Advocates and industry experts say they come up short, Cassie Miller reports.

If you have kids aged 12 and younger, and you’re looking to keep them safe this summer, get vaccinated, state health officials said Wednesday. Cassie Miller has the details.

Doubling down, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he won’t declare a state of emergency over gun violence in the state’s largest city, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged to include a Civilian Climate Corps in a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill later this year, as a broad swath of Democrats rallied around a framework of employing thousands of young people to do conservation work, National Correspondent Jacob Fischler reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a University of Virginia expert explains why Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon’ still feels relevant todayAnd opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz would really appreciate it if U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer retired … now.

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

Elsewhere.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reversed its decision allowing childhood sexual abuse survivors to sue for decades-old abuse, the Morning Call reports.

Pennsylvania is set to receive as much as $1 billion in the settlement with opioid-makers, the Inquirer reports, citing remarks by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Medical experts tell the Tribune-Review that they’re not alarmed by the state’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

PennLive’s John Baer takes a look at the rise of pass-the-buck governing in Pennsylvania and other states.

Procedural delays could push the hiring of a new Luzerne County manager into next year, the Citizens’ Voice reports (paywall).

USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capital Bureau updates on the latest in election reform efforts in Pennsylvania (paywall).

Officials in Atlantic City have voted to close the Garden State’s first needle exchangeWHYY-FM reports.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th Districtraised nearly $320K in the second quarter, PolitcsPA reports. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, meanwhile raised nearly $980K during the same time period, the website reports.

States braced for a wave of COVID-19 litigation that never arrived, Stateline.org reports.

As expected, the U.S. Senate fell short on a procedural vote on Wednesday, but talks on a bipartisan infrastructure package are continuing, Roll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House State Government Committee holds a day’s worth of hearings on Congressional redistricting. The sessions start at 9 a.m. in 205 Ryan Office Building.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
6:30 a.m.: Event in support of Rep. Matthew Dowling
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Maria Collett
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Emily Kinkead 
Hit all three events, and give at the max, and you’re out a brain-bending $20,000 today.

WolfWatch
Gov. Tom Wolf keeps it close to home, holding an 11 a.m. newser at a food manufacturing company in York County, touting an expansion and new jobs.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Pa. Pardons Board Secretary Brandon Flood, who celebrates today. Congratulations, sir. Enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one that popped up as I was putting this column together. From the wonderfully named, The Strumbellas, it’s ‘We Don’t Know.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
Baltimore dropped another one, losing 5-4 to Tampa on Wednesday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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