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Vital Signs: As COVID Cases Surge due to Delta Variant, it’s Important to Stay Vigilant

by | Sep 9, 2021 | In the News

After taking a big step forward this summer, toward life as we knew it before COVID-19 with the Governor lifting all pandemic-related mandates, it may feel like we’re taking two steps back with recommendations to wear masks and physically distance again. No matter how discouraging this may seem, it’s extremely important that we remain vigilant now more than ever as the Delta variant- the predominant COVID-19 variant in the United States- causes a surge in cases across the country.

The Delta variant is more contagious than previous COVID-19 variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and may cause more severe illness than previous strains in individuals who have not been vaccinated.

The best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Dr. Josh Kantrowitz, pediatrician at St. Johnsbury Pediatrics, said the current vaccines will protect you against the Delta variant.

“As with all vaccines, the COVID vaccine is not 100% protective but is very good,” Dr. Kantrowitz said. “We are now seeing that vaccinated individuals can get the Delta variant, but the risk is much lower than in people who have not been vaccinated. Furthermore, people who are vaccinated are likely contagious for a shorter period of time. This helps prevent spread.” 

Patty Launer, Director of Quality/Infection Prevention at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, shared that the COVID vaccine is highly effective in protecting people who are vaccinated from getting sick enough to be hospitalized. “However, getting vaccinated doesn’t mean that you can’t get a COVID infection with the Delta variant. It does mean that if you get an infection, there will be less risk of it causing severe illness,” Launer stated.

Although people who have been vaccinated can get infected with the Delta variant, which is known as a “breakthrough infection,” these infections are in a small number of vaccinated people and most cases are mild. People who have been fully vaccinated are less likely to get the virus, according to the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). Unvaccinated individuals are of the greatest concern as nearly all hospitalizations and deaths have been among those who are unvaccinated.

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID who become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others, according to the CDC, but vaccinated individuals are infectious for a shorter period of time than unvaccinated people. That’s why right now, it’s still important to wear a mask and maintain physical distance.

“Since you can still get infected with COVID/the Delta variant, even if you are vaccinated, it is important to keep masking and physically distancing, especially when you are indoors,” Launer said. “The virus needs a host in order to be able to travel and change. The vaccine helps make each of us a less hospitable host, and masking and physically distancing helps make it harder for the virus to travel from one host to another, and from one area to another.”

These measures seem to be especially important now that school has started again. “Right now all children ages 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer COVID vaccine,” Dr. Kantrowitz said. “The other two vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are approved for individuals ages 18 and older. As of the end of August, 70 percent of youth ages 12-15 and 75 percent of youth ages 17-18 have received at least one shot in Vermont,” Dr. Kantrowitz cited.

Eligible individuals who receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will get two shots, and those who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will get one shot. For those who get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Dr. Kantrowitz emphasized the importance of getting both shots in the series as this provides much better protection than just getting one.

If your child isn’t eligible to receive the vaccine before starting school, Dr. Kantrowitz suggested they wear a mask regardless of whether masks are required by their school.

“Wearing a mask is the simplest and most effective way to prevent virus spread if you are around others and can’t get vaccinated yet,” Dr. Kantrowitz stated. “Even if your child has received the vaccine, it still might be a good idea to have them wear a mask in schools. We are all working towards keeping young people in school every day with the least number of interruptions,” he added. “Unfortunately, we have seen that the Delta variant can be spread by vaccinated people who don’t have symptoms of COVID.”

Here are some other ways Dr. Kantrowitz shared that we can protect ourselves and others and help stop the spread of the virus:

  • We should all do a good job washing our hands on a regular basis and certainly before we eat.  Try not to touch your face, nose or eyes. That’s where respiratory viruses enter our body.
  • Get vaccinated if you’re eligible! This will make a big difference. 
  • Kids should stay home from school if they are sick.
  • Parents and caregivers should try to make contingency plans for sick days ahead of time.
  • If anyone in your household is sick, get tested for COVID. If we know the virus is out there, we can limit its spread. 
  • Consider limiting your travel plans. Vermont has very low rates of COVID compared with other states. This is certainly not true in other parts of the county.  
  • When in doubt about the risk of exposure, wear a mask. 
  • Keep your windows open and wear a mask if you participate in a carpool. 

“Last academic year there were almost no cases of COVID spread in schools,” Dr. Kantrowitz highlighted. “The virus was mostly spread in homes during un-masked social gatherings and in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces.”

We can all try to limit exposure by taking precautions and gathering with friends and family outside.

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