Just a few weeks after many Americans started feeling relatively OK about returning to some sense of post-pandemic normalcy, a new word has started cropping up in headlines. The delta variant, a new spin on the novel coronavirus, is making headlines around the world and medical experts are hard at work trying to understand what it means. There’s a lot we don’t know about this variant or any potential future iterations of COVID-19, but if you’re someone who’s relishing going back to irl church services or Bible studies with friends, you’re probably wondering what it means for you.
Here’s what we know:
What is the delta variant?
Viruses evolve. It’s what they do. It’s why there’s a constantly updated flu shot with every new flu season. A few especially strong viruses manage to survive the old vaccination, those viruses spread, and we have to create a new vaccine to deal with them. For the most part, this isn’t a big deal. But every now and then, the new virus might prove to be especially contagious, harmful or resistant to vaccines. That’s when you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The delta variant is a mutation of the original coronavirus, and has been popping up and spreading like wildfire in India and Britain. A few cases have made their way to the U.S., but this isn’t the first variant we’ve dealt with here. In fact, the alpha variant was briefly the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. around late March, but surging vaccination rates kept it at bay.
However, the delta variant seems to be at least a slightly different ballgame.
Well, the delta variant is more contagious than other coronavirus variants. Lots more contagious. Some studies from India and Britain, where the delta variant is spreading fast, suggest it could be around twice as contagious as the original virus and maybe 20 percent more contagious than the alpha variant.
But I’m vaccinated. Do I need to be worried?
Scientists are still studying the delta variant, but you don’t need to be worried. There is some evidence that people with both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be a little more vulnerable to the delta variant than other versions of the virus, but not significantly so.
However, if you only got your first dose, you should get your second one scheduled asap. Early research does suggest that only one dose is quite a bit less effective against the delta variant — even more so than other versions of the virus.
This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been pushing the COVID-19 vaccine so hard. Getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect you against the virus, it also reduces COVID-19’s potential to mutate by limiting the number of potential hosts. The greater percentage of a population that stays unvaccinated, the more warm petri dishes for the virus to evolve in.
So should I keep wearing a mask?
There’s not really a simple answer to that yet.
In the U.S., about half of all adults remain unvaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to the delta variant. Masks do substantially slow the spread of the virus and help protect vulnerable communities, but the issue of masking became enormously politicized in the U.S., causing no small amount of controversy in many of the states, cities and even private businesses that mandated them.
In May, of course, U.S. experts said fully vaccinated people can lose the masks, which most Americans were more than ready to do. However, the World Health Organization has continued to stress the importance of masks, and they reiterated their recommendation last week. Other countries like Australia, Malaysia and even the highly vaccinated Israel have reiterated their masking requirements. Now, Los Angeles County has decided to follow WHO’s lead, re-emphasizing their own mask recommendation, regardless of vaccination status.
But neither New York City nor Chicago have any plans to revisit their drop of masking requirements, and the CDC has kept quiet on it as well.
The New York Times spoke with several experts, some of whom suggested wearing a mask if you’re in a place where cases are ticking up. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health epidemiologist Bill Hanage said that “If you are in a place where cases are climbing, wearing a mask indoors in crowded public spaces is a way to keep yourself from contributing to the spread of delta.”
What about churches?
There may just not be a one-size-fits-all answer here. If your church is highly vaccinated in a part of the country where cases are still very low, there’s probably not a need to revisit your reopening plans (although facemasks can’t hurt). But if people aren’t vaccinated or if your community is seeing a slight uptick in cases as Los Angeles is, then you may want to consider your options. Your best bet is reaching out to local officials or healthcare professionals who can walk you through local statistics and help recommend a plan that’s right for your church community. You won’t regret safety.