After a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates from January through June 2021, there was a sharp increase in July. In late June, the seven-day average of reported cases hovered around 12,000. In late July, that number increased to 60,000 (and it continued to increase from there). A new COVID-19 variant called Delta was the main reason behind this sharp increase in cases. A virus variant is a new strain that can affect how the virus spreads, how effective vaccines are against it, how well treatment can work, and how severely ill people can get.
In this webinar, we’ll discuss the Delta variant in detail, give an overview of other variants, share the ongoing results of vaccination, and dig into the lasting impact of COVID-19, particularly on vulnerable communities.
Valuable insights: Facts, myths, and status
Scientists are still researching the Delta variant to learn how it affects community transmission rates, illness severity, and treatment. Currently, Delta accounts for approx. 99% of COVID-19 cases in America.
What are variants?
- Viruses constantly acquire new genetic mutations over time––mutations spontaneously develop as the virus spreads
- Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple mutations have been identified
- Mutations can result in a variant (a new strain of virus that has one or more mutations that differentiate it from other variants)
- Variants are expected and will continue to emerge
- The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection through vaccination and preventative measures
- All COVID-19 tests can detect all variants, but they will not tell you which variant you have
Facts about the Delta variant
The Delta variant is about twice as contagious as the previous variants of COVID-19. While the symptoms are the same as those of previous coronavirus strains, it can result in more severe illness, especially among unvaccinated people. This is because the Delta variant grows more rapidly in the respiratory tract, according to new research. On average, the virus level is 1,000 times higher in a person infected with the Delta variant than in a person infected with the original virus.
It’s possible for the Delta variant to cause a breakthrough infection, which happens when a fully vaccinated individual is diagnosed with COVID-19. Symptoms are usually mild, similar to the common cold. Less than 1% of the vaccinated population has reported breakthrough infections, however, so this phenomenon isn’t too worrisome. What’s more, while fully vaccinated people can spread the virus if they have the Delta strain, the amount of time they are contagious is much shorter.
The best way to protect yourself against Delta is to get vaccinated. The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people, as they are more likely to become infected.
The Delta variant by the numbers
200% more infectious than the original variant that emerged in China
More dangerous: (CMAJ Oct 25, 2021):
- 100% increased risk hospitalization
- 230% increased risk ICU
- 130% increased risk of death
More likely to escape immunity:
- Breakthrough infections can occur, although they appeared in less than 1% of the vaccinated population
- Fully vaccinated people can spread the virus, but the duration of infected period is shorter
Myths about the Delta variant
Various myths about the Delta variant are floating around, and we’re here to dispel some of those rumors, to help you better understand what this variant is and how it is affecting COVID-19 cases on the whole.
MYTH: The effects of the Delta variant are exaggerated.
The science doesn’t lie: Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) say that the Delta variant is more contagious and deadly than the original strain of COVID-19. Consider this: In an unmitigated environment, a person infected with the original COVID-19 virus may infect 2.5 people on average, while a person with the Delta variant may infect up to four people on average.
MYTH: The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t effective against the Delta variant.
Studies conducted to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness against the Delta variant have shown that it offers robust protection against serious illness and hospitalizations.
MYTH: Young, healthy people don’t need to worry about Delta.
Because most young people (especially children under age 12) are not vaccinated, they are especially vulnerable to the Delta variant. It’s important for young people to continue wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines until a vaccine for children is readily available.
Status of the Delta variant
The Delta variant remains the predominant COVID-19 strain in the United States, with the combined proportion of cases attributed to it estimated to be more than 99%. However, as more people get vaccinated—currently, 57% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19—cases should continue to decline. As of October 20, 2021, the seven-day average of cases reported to the CDC was just over 73,000.
What about the other variants?
The CDC categorizes other variants of COVID-19 as variants of high consequence (VOHC), variants of concern (VOC), variants of interest (VOI), or variants being monitored (VBM).
All variants at this time, other than Delta, are listed as VBMs, which means they do not pose an imminent risk to public health. Although these variants have been associated with severe disease or increased transmission, they are either no longer detected or are circulating at a very low level in the U.S.
The Delta variant is categorized as a VOC, which means the CDC and the WHO have found evidence of an increase in more severe illness and transmissibility alongside a potential reduction in neutralization with some monoclonal antibody treatments and vaccinations.
A breakthrough infection is when somebody who has been vaccinated contracts the virus and are expected with all vaccinations (yearly Flu vaccine is about 40-50% effective). When breakthrough infections occur resulting in hospitalizations or deaths:
- 85% of deaths occurred in those >65 years of age
- 66% of hospitalizations occurred in those >65 years of age
- A broader look: Hospitalizations of vaccinated individuals >18 years of age, approximately 1/3 are immunocompromised
COVID-19 vaccination numbers are rising, with many people now eligible for booster shots. Vaccinations have inarguably slowed the spread of COVID-19 and mitigated lethality levels, as seen below.
Facts and figures
- 192 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated (approx. 58% of the population.)
- Out of 740,00 total US deaths, approx. 99% were unvaccinated
- Of 3.2 million hospitalizations, approx. 99% were unvaccinated
Unvaccinated people are at far greater risk from COVID-19:
- 5 times as likely to contract COVID-19
- 10 times as likely to be hospitalized of COVID-19
- 12 times as likely to die of COVID-19
Studies have shown, vaccine effectiveness wanes over time and the Delta variant’s increasing contagiousness means that booster shots may help improve the immune response in the older population and those with underlying medical conditions. The booster shot provides improved protection against the Delta variant.
A booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine, administered after a person has completed the vaccine series. It is most commonly recommended when there is concern that a vaccine’s effectiveness may wane over time or may not protect against new strains of the virus (such as Delta). While the original COVID-19 vaccine introduces antibodies into the body to defend against the virus, booster shots remind the immune system about the virus it needs to defend against, enhancing its protection.
Booster shots are currently recommended for people who originally received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines six or more months ago and are age 65 or older. Adults age 18+ who have an underlying condition, live in a long-term care setting, or live or work in a high-risk setting are also eligible. Adults, age 18+ who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine two or more months ago can also receive a booster shot.
The Delta variant’s increasing contagiousness means that booster shots may help improve the immune response in the older population and those with underlying medical conditions. This gives them improved protection against the Delta variant.
Most experts agree that COVID-19 will be endemic—a regular, circulating infection much like the flu. Some predict future “waves” of the virus, while others assert that we’ve already seen the worst.
Health officials have expressed concern over the possibility of an approaching “Twindemic”: the combined spread of the flu and COVID-19. Both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shots can help slow the spread, but future variants are expected.
How often will an individual require a COVID-19 vaccine or a booster? The short answer is that no one knows yet. Most experts believe that we may need periodic boosters.
COVID-19’s impact on senior living communities
More than 135,000 seniors (and over 2,000 staff members) have died of COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Senior living communities were among the first organizations to alter their operations to address the impact of COVID-19. One of the first changes made was to bar non-essential volunteers and family members from visiting residents of long-term care facilities. This was done to limit the spread of COVID-19 among one of the most vulnerable populations, but it had an unintended effect of creating more isolation for seniors and impacting their mental health.
COVID-19’s impact on home health organizations
Many people don’t want to risk exposure to COVID-19, so they are less inclined to seek care at a hospital or urgent care facility, especially for an acute, non-urgent illness or injury. Home health care is an essential service to these individuals, providing them with an option to receive the healthcare they need without leaving home.
What’s more, doctors and physician groups started recommending home healthcare to their patients to help limit their patients’ exposure and reduce the demands placed on their offices.
This, of course, increased the demands placed on home healthcare agencies. One of the biggest challenges this industry faced during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was acquiring personal protective equipment to help keep their employees safe as they provided healthcare services in patients’ homes. Home healthcare agencies also dealt with staffing shortages due to their employees being exposed to COVID-19 and having to quarantine or becoming infected with the virus themselves.
How to keep our vulnerable populations safe
Masks are still one of the most effective ways to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, so adults and children ages two and older should continue to wear a mask when in public (even vaccinated individuals). The mask—which should have two layers of fabric—should fully cover your nose and mouth.
Get vaccinated if you are able, as vaccinated individuals have a much lower risk of getting COVID-19. According to the CDC, the surge in COVID-19 cases is higher in communities with lower vaccination rates. By getting vaccinated, you are helping to lessen the spread of COVID-19 and therefore helping to protect those who cannot get vaccinated.
Continue to socially distance in settings where you don’t know the vaccination status of the people around you. This means staying at least six feet away from people in public settings, especially if you have children or people in your household with a weakened immune system.
How DispatchHealth can help your residents, patients, clients & staff
At DispatchHealth, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure we provide the safest possible service to our patients while protecting the health of our providers. As COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus, our staff continues to wear personal protective gear and use fully sanitized equipment. We highly encourage our patients to wear masks while we’re in their homes.
We can conduct COVID-19 testing in a patient’s home and even get them started on monoclonal antibody treatment right away if they test positive. This can lessen the burden on hospitals as it may reduce the risk of hospitalization.
Benefits of partnering with DispatchHealth
DispatchHealth offers affordable acute medical services throughout the United States for a wide range of conditions—including COVID-19. With our same-day services, we can have a highly qualified medical team at a patient’s doorstep within a few hours of requesting a visit. Our medical teams bring with them much of the same medical equipment found in an emergency room to provide a high level of care to our patients.
We have partnered with hospitals, health systems, senior living communities, and home healthcare companies to bring same-day, at-home medical care to their patients. To learn more about our services, contact DispatchHealth today.