To mask or be unmasked…that is the question. Back in May, the CDC had given the OK to the vaccinated to go unmasked anywhere they wish. Hooray for fresh air and carefree walking amongst the crowds! It was beginning to almost look like pre-COVID times. From April to June 2021, we were seeing a downtrend in new COVID cases, with a low 8107 cases on 6/14/21 in the US. Unfortunately, that lasted for one hot New York minute. By the first weeks of July, the numbers started climbing once again, prompting the CDC to reverse their unmasking guideline.
Disappointed groans could be heard nationwide. Why is this happening? Aren’t people getting vaccinated? They sure are. CDC has reported,
“As of August 5, 90.2% of people ages 65 or older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 80.3% are fully vaccinated. Over two-thirds (70.4%) of people ages 18 or older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 60.8% are fully vaccinated. For people ages 12 or older, 68.1% have received at least one dose of vaccine and 58.4% are fully vaccinated.”
That’s good, right? Well, despite these vaccination numbers, COVID cases have gone up, thanks to the Delta variant. This strain was first detected in India, December 2020, and has made its way here just in time to spoil the unmasking party.
Majority of new SARS-CoV2 cases (80%) and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. Hence this strain being called the “epidemic of the unvaccinated.” This population is at the highest risk. The current data shows that the Delta variant’s transmission rate is twice as high than the original strain, making it far more contagious. Asymptomatic people can still carry a high amount of virus in their nose and throat. So much so that it can infect the fully vaccinated, this scenario being referred to as “breakthrough infections.” These cases usually exhibit mild symptoms to none. It is important to note that vaccinations do not offer 100% protection, but it has been shown to prevent severe disease course leading to hospitalization. The need for more vaccinations is even greater than ever.
Hospitals are seeing a concerning uptrend in COVID admissions. CDC data for August reports approximately over 9,000 admissions daily, compared to last month’s (July) relatively low 2,000 admissions. If this trend continues, we could see a situation like last spring, where our health care system was overwhelmed with admissions, understaffing, insufficient supplies, protective gear, etc. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Everyone must do their part in the fight against this virus. Those that cannot get the vaccine, whether they’ve been advised by their physician due to chronic health issues or personal difficulties, can mask up, social distance and avoid crowded places. It is one thing to choose not to vaccinate, and another when one also does not want to mask up either. One cannot have it both ways. They are taking hefty risks: spreading it to others with chronic medical problems (making them more vulnerable), young children (less than 12 years old who cannot be vaccinated yet and have no immunity to COVID), and their own health—potentially landing them in the hospital. We’re all suffering from COVID fatigue, but it’s not going to “just go away” as someone have said once. We need to do better, and be considerate of the overall well-being of our society. Go vaccinate, if you can, it just might save your life and your neighbors.
Valerie Kabul is a Physician Assistant at Mount Sinai Morningside (NYC) in the always busy hospital medicine department. Prior to 2016, she worked in a gastroenterology/hepatology practice for 10 years. In her free time, she likes reading and learning about health and wellness, integrative medicine. She also likes to channel the adventurous spirit of Moana, through her travel blog How Far I’ll Go, where she shares the explorations of local getaways and faraway places.