The highly contagious Delta variant is leading to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in several U.S. states, including North Carolina. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified Delta as a “variant of concern” because it spreads faster than other COVID-19 variants.
Studies from the United Kingdom have also shown a possible increased risk of hospitalization in people infected with the Delta variant.
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Dr. Gretchen Arnoczy, a FirstHealth infectious diseases specialist, said the spread of the variant should make everyone understand that the pandemic isn’t over. She also answered some key questions about how people in the Sandhills should respond.
What makes the Delta variant so concerning?
First and foremost, data shows that the Delta variant is particularly contagious. The variant first originated in India at the end of 2020, and it quickly became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in both India and Great Britain. At the end of last month, Delta accounted for about 20% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and that number is on the rise.
Because it is more contagious, the Delta variant is more dangerous because it could have an outsized effect on those who are not vaccinated. Even in our area, where COVID-19 cases fell for much of the early part of the summer, we are seeing an uptick. And in terms of hospitalized patients, the vast majority who have come to FirstHealth hospitals recently have been unvaccinated. Right now, those most at risk are people who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Do the vaccines work against this variant of COVID-19?
Early data says yes. Vaccines are highly effective at preventing the worst outcomes from COVID-19 – hospitalization and death – and they also do a wonderful job of slowing down the spread of COVID-19. Breakthrough infections are certainly possible, but they are often associated with a milder disease or even asymptomatic cases, meaning someone may contract COVID-19 but never actually feel sick.
We have known for some time that vaccines would lead us through the pandemic, and this remains true today, even in the fact of this more transmissible variant. As we move into the second half of summer and with school soon, we encourage all those who are eligible to get vaccinated. It’s quick, painless and can help us avoid a fall and winter of increased cases and, sadly, deaths.
Should I consider wearing masks in public again?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been consistent on its mask policy and does not recommend masks for those who are fully vaccinated. People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system may have less protection from the vaccines so they should continue to follow precautions such as masks until advised otherwise by their health care provider.
If you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask in indoor public places. Masks are still required for everyone in all health care settings, including FirstHealth hospitals and clinics.
Where is FirstHealth currently offering COVID-19 vaccines?
Anyone 18 and older is eligible to be vaccinated, and those 12 and older can be scheduled to receive a Pfizer vaccine by their parent or legal guardian. FirstHealth is offering COVID-19 vaccines at several of our primary care and occupational health clinics across our service area. Appointments are required. Please call (910) 715-7468 to schedule an appointment at one of our clinics.
Several counties within the FirstHealth service area also continue to offer vaccinations. Please check availability from health departments in your area. In Moore County, call (910) 947-7468. In Richmond County, call (910) 417-4909.