Those who have been following the coronavirus pandemic closely are likely not surprised that a concerning variant has emerged. This was one of the scenarios that worried infectious disease experts. Here is what caregivers should know about the delta variant:
What is different about the delta variant: It’s more transmissible, and is running rampant through America’s large swaths of unvaccinated populations. The debate is ongoing on whether it causes more severe disease. Hospitals across the US are seeing younger people fill up beds, which is different than earlier iterations of the pandemic.
How to protect elder loved ones: The good news is that roughly 80 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, according to the CDC. If you have an elder in your life who has been reluctant to get vaccinated, now is the time for them to seriously reconsider. For those who cannot or will not get vaccinated, extreme caution when interacting with others, especially in public, is critical. That includes masking and limiting contact with unvaccinated people.
But what about the breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people? Vaccines have never been full-proof. The influenza vaccine in particular is a roll of the dice each year when it comes to effectiveness. The COVID-19 vaccines face the same challenges, especially when it comes to variants. While the studies showing that vaccinated people can carry a similar viral load to the vaccinated, it’s important to focus on the bottom line. The overwhelming amount of people who are being hospitalized due to the delta variant are unvaccinated. The vaccinated breakthrough cases typically result in asymptomatic or mild symptoms. Down the road, booster vaccine shots may be necessary to address variants.
What about nursing homes? According to the government, 81 percent of nursing home residents and 58 percent of staff have been vaccinated. A concerning study found that aides working in nursing home have lower vaccination rates. These are the staff members who interact with residents the most, so for the well-being of residents and staff, more facilities may consider vaccine requirements. If you have concerns about unvaccinated staff members at a facility where your loved one resides, talk to management. It’s also possible that facilities will reimpose visitation restrictions to reduce the risk of outbreaks of the delta variant.
Will this ever end? I wish I had a crystal ball. Everyone is exhausted. It is particularly disheartening for those of us who followed the guidelines and got vaccinated, and now find that a variant is threatening to upend the cautious reopening phase. Some experts approach the future of coronavirus like seasonal influenza, where as a society we take precautions as we can, but accept that there will be cases, hospitalizations and even deaths in vulnerable populations. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates that we are further along with the delta variant than we may think, and that while brutal, the variant will sweep through the country fairly quickly. Other variants may follow, so stay vigilant when caring for anyone who is older or in a vulnerable population. If it is safe for you and your loved ones to do so, try to stay engaged in activities that you enjoy, whether it’s being out in nature or in low-risk social situations. It’s important not to overlook our mental and emotional health while we address COVID-19 variants.