In mid-July, the COVID-19 Delta variant caused 83% of coronavirus cases in the United States. The month before, it accounted for more than 20%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What does this mean for Michigan families? We talked with two infectious disease experts about what a variant is, what Delta means for families with unvaccinated members and whether children should wear masks in school this fall.
Fast facts about the Delta Variant
- The variant, which the CDC classified as a variant of concern in June, has higher contagion rates than other strains.
- It was first detected in India in December 2020.
- The Delta variant is almost twice as contagious as the original COVID-19 strain, according to a Yale Medicine report.
- Delta has spread to 105 countries.
What does it mean when a virus has variants?
Dr. Dennis Cunningham, the medical director for infection prevention at the Henry Ford Health System, says it’s expected for a virus to mutate into multiple variants.
“When the virus has taken millions and millions copies of itself, sometimes there’s a glitch in the genetic code and that’s how we get these variants,” Cunningham says.
Cunningham stresses that since vaccines are safe against the Delta variant and other strains, the best prevention to COVID-19 is immunization.
The worse-case scenario, he says, is the persistence of the pandemic giving the virus more time to mutate, which could cause a new variant “that’s not covered at all by the vaccines and we’re back to square one.”
How dangerous is Delta?
Compared the original COVID-19 strain and other variants, the Delta variant spreads easier and faster, according to Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd, a Michigan pediatric infectious disease specialist.
While Delta doesn’t cause more severe symptoms, “it has the potential to make a lot more people sicker, especially unvaccinated people,” Lloyd says.
Michigan currently sees 431 new cases per day, which has risen from earlier this week but is better than the 7,000 average from fall 2020 and spring 2021, according to Lloyd.
To Lloyd, more COVID-19 cases equal more hospitalizations and deaths.
The latest figures show 53.6% of Michigan residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that more than 3.9 million Michigan residents still unvaccinated.
Here’s what complete vaccination rates currently look like in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area:
- Macomb County: 53%
- Oakland County: 64%
- Livingston County: 56%
- Washtenaw County: 65%
- Wayne County: 60%
“We’re going to see more cases in Michigan in pockets of people who are not vaccinated,” Cunningham says. “Michigan vaccination numbers are low enough that we’ll see some additional surges here.”
Until Michigan sees 70% of the population vaccinated, another surge is coming, Cunningham predicts.
What does this mean for my unvaccinated child?
Children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated. The unvaccinated population is the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
“For people under the age of 12, the only thing to prevent the virus is trying to social distance and wear masks when you’re in close quarters with people who are not vaccinated,” Cunningham says.
What’s the deal with masks?
For the second year during the pandemic, school boards are debating whether to require children — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks this fall.
Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that everyone at school older than 2 years old wear a mask. In addition, as of July 27, the CDC also recommends that people who are fully vaccinated resume wearing masks indoors and encourages everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask regardless of vaccine status.
Cunningham says unvaccinated children should wear masks while face coverings can be optional for vaccinated students. Schools and businesses should stay open, though.
“There are more risks in keeping kids home (rather) than going to school because social isolation can make depression and anxiety worse,” Cunningham says.
Lloyd recommends all students to wear masks because most children will be unvaccinated.
About 25% of 12- to 15-year-olds are fully vaccinated, which is the lowest percentage among the different age groups, according to state data.
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