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What you need to know about the Delta variant Michael Gutzeit, MD, chief medical officer, Children’s Wisconsin

What families need to know about the COVID-19 Delta variant

In the last several weeks, you’ve likely heard of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus known as the Delta variant. In fact, the predominant strain of COVID-19 right now in the United States and the world, is the Delta variant. But what is it exactly, and what do people need to do to keep their families and kids safe? 

To start, it’s important to know that viruses constantly change through mutation. This is absolutely normal and expected. There are currently several different COVID-19 variants identified throughout the world, but the Delta variant is one that’s most concerning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant is:

  • About 60 percent more transmissible than the primary COVID-19 virus

  • Almost twice as likely to lead to hospitalization

  • Can carry up to and release 1,000 times more virus in nasal passages than those infected with the original strain.

Over the last few weeks, COVID-19 cases (including hospitalizations and deaths) have been rising all over the country. According to recent data, the Delta variant makes up more than 83 percent of those new cases. While that’s certainly alarming, it’s important to know that of those new cases, more than 90 percent are in people who are not vaccinated

This has truly become a pandemic for the unvaccinated. Unfortunately, that puts young children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at much greater risk to become infected. While there is hope that younger kids will be approved for the vaccine before the end of the year, until then, many parents are asking us how to keep their children safe until they are able to get vaccinated.  

Wear a mask

To start, anyone who is not vaccinated should still wear a mask when in public indoor places. However, the CDC recently updated their mask recommendations in response to the Delta variant and is encouraging those who are vaccinated and live in “an area of substantial or high transmission” to also wear a mask indoors in public. Masks are a simple and effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones, including your young children. With a new school year starting soon, this is especially important. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all kids ages 2 and up — and school staff — wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

Ask questions

As for additional precautions, while you don’t necessarily have to have another strict lock-down, it might be wise to ask yourself what activities should be postponed — like that spontaneous trip to a crowded theme park, planned play date or reunion with someone who you know is not yet vaccinated. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they are vaccinated and consider canceling plans if they’re not. This is not about protecting people’s feelings. This is about keeping your children safe until they can receive the vaccine.

Avoid travel

It’s also a good idea to avoid any unnecessary travel at this time. States are going through different stages (regions with lower vaccinations are currently getting hit hard by the Delta variant) and that will remain ever-changing in the coming weeks and months. 

Continue doing what works

For some, nothing has changed. For families with kids with underlying health conditions or who are immunocompromised, we recommend they continue to practice the same safety precautions they have been since day one.  

If you are fully vaccinated, keep in mind there is a possibility that you might still become infected with COVID-19. While these vaccines are highly, highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, they don’t provide 100 percent protection against infection. However, for those who are vaccinated and get still infected, the symptoms have usually been much milder than those who are not vaccinated. That shows the vaccine is working as expected. 

I know these past 18 months have been hard on everyone. And it seems like as soon as we start to make progress, something else comes up. But if we continue to band together and do everything we can to keep ourselves and our families safe, we will get through this. If you’re not vaccinated, wear your mask and practice social distancing. And if you’re eligible to get the vaccine, please do so as soon as you can. Children’s Wisconsin is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine for free at its Milwaukee Hospital Campus and many of its primary care offices throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Families can schedule their appointment online here