COVID-19 Delta Variant:

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What is it, exactly, and is it concerning?

By Julian O’Connor, Copy Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a part of normal life for most people in the world and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) since Spring of 2020. Understandably, with the recent introduction of widespread COVID-19 vaccines, many students wish that the pandemic could simply be over and everyone could return to normal life. However, COVID-19 is an adaptable virus, and both the university and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) have recommended that some preventive measures continue to be taken due to the prevalence of variants such as the delta variant. These recommendations, however, do not necessarily provide all the information that students may wish to know about the delta variant.

Firstly, some students may be wondering what a COVID-19 variant even is. The World Health Organization (WHO), defines two separate categories of variants: Variants of Interest (VOIs) and Variants of Concern (VOCs).

A Variant of Interest is defined as a variant that has genetic changes that are “predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape” and that is “Identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.”

A Variant of Concern is defined as a variant that has met all of the conditions to be a VOI and also has one or more “of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance: Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.”

Essentially, interesting variants may make COVID-19 easier to transmit, worse to be infected with, or harder to treat, while concerning variants may do those things on a worse scale, with the additional criteria that concerning variants may also lower the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments.

There are currently four Variants of Concern, of which the delta variant is the last, having been discovered the most recently. According to the CDC, the delta variant is more infectious than regular COVID-19, and more than two times more contagious. The CDC also says that the delta variant causes more severe illness in unvaccinated individuals than the original COVID-19 virus, or the alpha variant (the first Variant of Concern).

The CDC also says that even fully vaccinated people can contract and spread the delta variant, although fully vaccinated people will have less time where they can transmit the virus to others. However, the CDC notes that infections of fully vaccinated people (called “breakthrough infections”) are rare, and the illness that people who get a breakthrough infection have is less severe.

With the data from the CDC, it is easy to see that the delta variant matches all of the WHO guidelines for being designated a Variant of Concern; it is easier to transmit, causes more severe illness, and decreases the efficiency of vaccines.

The high level of concern that goes with the delta variant, as well as the fact that other variants and the original virus still exist, is likely why the CDC recommends that as many people as possible get vaccinated. The CDC also recommends wearing masks indoors in public spaces in areas of high transmission. Yavapai County, where Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus resides, is an area of high transmission with 12 deaths in the last seven days. Volusia County in Florida, where the Daytona Beach campus resides, is also a high transmission area, although with less than 10 deaths in the past seven days.

The delta variant of COVID-19 is highly contagious and causes severe illness in unvaccinated people, and has the possibility of being spread, with or without infection, by vaccinated people. It has been designated a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people take precautionary measures to avoid it becoming widespread. If students wish to learn more about the delta variant or the COVID-19 pandemic in general, they should visit the following links:

The CDC’s page on the delta variant:

[https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html]

The WHO’s page on COVID-19 variants and the designation systems behind them:

[https://www.who.int/en/activities/tracking-SARS-CoV-2-variants/]

Embry-Riddle’s Official COVID-19 resources page:

[https://erau.edu/coronavirus]

The CDC’s interactive resource for checking COVID-19 cases and deaths by county:

[https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view]

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