In recent weeks, Oregon’s COVID-19 cases have risen dramatically. That rise is attributed to the Delta variant, first detected in India last December. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the vast majority new cases of COVID-19 in the state are attributable to the Delta variant.
“Six weeks ago the Delta variant made up about 16% of cases in Oregon but has quickly grown,” said Adam Brady, MD, from Samaritan Infectious Disease who heads the Coronavirus Task Force at Samaritan. “We’re learning that this variant is different from previous ones in ways that make it more capable of infecting people.”
There are a few reasons why the Delta variant is concerning:
It Spreads Much More Easily
Epidemiologists measure how easily a disease can spread from one person to another. People infected with early forms of the coronavirus on average passed the infection on to between two and five other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the Delta variant is more than twice as infectious as earlier strains. This means that each person who contracts COVID-19 is now infecting between five to nine others, which is why COVID-19 cases are increasing so rapidly.
Vaccinated People Are Less Likely to Get Covid-19, but Can Likely Transmit It If Infected
Vaccination remains the best way to prevent infection and severe illness from COVID-19, however given the spread of the Delta variant, some people who were previously vaccinated are getting infected. This does not happen often, however a study published by the CDC found that vaccinated people who became infected had roughly the same amount of virus as unvaccinated people who were infected, which suggests they could spread the virus. Vaccinated people are significantly less likely to become severely ill, be hospitalized or die from the disease.
It May Cause More Severe Disease
Research published in The Lancet found that people who were infected with the Delta variant and were unvaccinated were more likely to be hospitalized than those with earlier strains of the coronavirus who were unvaccinated. In the study, vaccination offered significant protection against both infection and hospitalization.
“These early reports are showing that the Delta variant spreads more easily and may lead to more severe disease in those who are infected. It just has more teeth,” said Dr. Brady. “However, we’re also seeing that vaccination is effective. It reduces your chance of getting the disease, lessens the severity if you do get it and significantly reduces your chance of death. Those are all successful outcomes for vaccination.”
Three Ways to Protect Yourself
The pandemic isn’t over yet and it’s a good idea to continue practicing safety measures, Dr. Brady advised.
“The things that people have been doing for the last year and a half are still helpful,” he said. “Remember to be consistent and to follow local guidelines as they become available.”
Dr. Brady also recommends the following steps to protect yourself:
1. Get Vaccinated
Vaccination is safe and effective. It reduces your chance of infection against all variants, including Delta, and offers strong protection from severe illness and death.
At Samaritan hospitals in Albany, Corvallis, Lincoln City, Lebanon and Newport, Dr. Brady reports that an average of nine out of 10 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. According to the OHA, 94% of COVID-19-associated deaths occur in unvaccinated individuals.
“Breakthrough infections do occur with the Delta variant in vaccinated individuals, but the vaccine still offers significant protection from infection, and the protection from severe illness and death is very robust,” said Dr. Brady. “Also, as long as the virus can continue to spread in the unvaccinated population, it can continue to change, and new variants could emerge. Vaccination is the safest and most efficient way to stop it.”
2. Avoid Large Gatherings
An outbreak in Massachusetts was tied to Fourth of July celebrations where thousands of people gathered together. An outdoor music festival in Oregon has also been identified as a source of outbreak. Indoors or out, large gatherings are better to avoid at this time, suggests Dr. Brady.
3. Wear a Mask Indoors Around Others
Face masks have remained required in all health care facilities even when restrictions were loosened in other sectors. Now with the Delta variant spreading rapidly Governor Kate Brown has issued a new executive order, effective Aug. 13, to wear masks indoors in public places. This mandate is based on CDC and Oregon Health Authority recommendations. Dr. Brady said wearing masks indoors when around people from outside your household is very important given that the Delta variant can be transmitted easier than other versions of the virus.
“We are still working to control the pandemic and need to use every tool available,” he said. “Right now, the best way to do that is to protect yourself and others with vaccination and precautions like face masks and physical distancing in public.”