By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Last week, Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health Officer and the Chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Immunization Section for Public Health Seattle and King County, held a press conference to provide an update on new COVID policies/guidance, the characteristics and statistics of the COVID-19 Delta Variant and what will be needed to mitigate the potency and contagiousness of this new variant.
According to experts, the Delta is a totally different virus from the original COVID-19 threat of 2020, as it spreads much quicker, and can infect people more rapidly. In addition, people infected with the Delta variant can begin to show symptoms in 3 – 4 days, as opposed to 5 – 6 days for the previous strains of the virus.
“The Delta has the thrown the world a nasty curveball and changed the curse of the pandemic to where we had hoped to be today in the U.S.,” said Duchin. “Because the Delta variant produces 1,000times more viral load it is much more contagious than earlier variants, which means people are getting infected easier, and faster and are much more likely to spread the virus to others.”
According to Duchin, the good news is that vaccinated individuals, although able to still contract the viruses and even spread it, are still protected from severe illness, hospitalization and death from either virus — COVID-19 or the Delta variant. However, reports indicate that the Delta variant can cause more serious illness to unvaccinated adults.
“Even though our vaccines continue to provide a high level of protection against serious infections of the Delta variant, Delta can cause breakthrough infections among a small proportion of vaccinated people,” warns Duchin. “It is important to understand that breakthrough infections that are reported are seen in a minority of vaccinated people and are relatively mild and can lead to spread from vaccinated people to others and that is one reason mask wearing is recommended for everyone in indoor public spaces.”
In response to the increasing number of new COVID cases, Governor Jay Inslee put forth a directive for Washington State residents to mask up in public indoor spaces and transportation in the hopes of mitigating the aggressive variant and to help maintain the social and economic gains the region had made in recent months.
Joined by state Health Secretary John Wiesman at a recent press conference, Inslee called the new orders imperative as economic activity increases.
“I think this is the way we need to look at this,” said Inslee. “We just cannot wish this virus to go away. We have to use tools that are available to us that we know, that work.”
The statewide mandate — to be formally issued by Wiesman — requires people over the age of 5 to wear face coverings generally while they are in any indoor or outdoor public space.
Of the various variants out there, the Delta variant represents 78 percent of the reported new infections in King County. However, health officials maintain that the best way to slow the spread of the virus, including the Delta variant, is to get vaccinated.
“Again, I want to be clear that our vaccines offer excellent protection against the Delta variant,” says Duchin. “But the complete series is required, meaning both doses.”
“Although there might be a slight drop off in protection, vaccines offer excellent protection against Delta particularly against serious illness, hospitalization and death,” added Duchin. “If you are not vaccinated you are at a high risk of becoming infected and spreading infection to others.”
Currently, there is no plan to re-instate COVID restrictions throughout the state. However, officials warn that it ultimately will be up to individuals and their actions related to the virus that will determine future actions, if necessary, that could possibly be imposed by the state.
According to the Governor’s office, masks will not be required outdoors when people can stay more than 6 feet apart from each other, while indoors at home with others, or while alone in a vehicle.
While children under 5 are exempt, the order recommends kids between the ages of 3 and 5 wear facial coverings.
Also exempt from the governor’s order are people who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, or people when they are communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
The order will also recognize times when people can remove their masks, such as when they are eating at a restaurant, or engaged in a recreational activity either alone or with members of their household.
“Violations of the statewide order are a misdemeanor,” Inslee said. “But we don’t want to have enforcement of this.”