Right now, the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is growing increasingly complex. For a few months in the spring, as vast numbers of Americans were vaccinated, case counts were going down and it seemed as if the end was in sight. Since then, however, a combination of vaccine hesitancy, waning precautions, and COVID variants have led to rising case counts and fresh disease spread.
The State of COVID
Recently, new guidance from the CDC suggested that “over 90% of U.S. counties” now meet the COVID guidelines for masking indoors. These counties are seeing “high or substantial rates” of COVID transmission, putting people — and particularly those who are not yet vaccinated — at severe risk. The guidance from the CDC comes as we are also beginning to see headlines once again about ICU beds filling up in some particularly high-spread areas.
On the world stage, we also know that there is ongoing, urgent work being done to develop a treatment for COVID-19. Vaccinations are not as widespread outside of the U.S., and in many parts of the world, it will take some time yet to distribute and administer vaccines in meaningful numbers. To meet these challenges, WHO COVID-19 drug trials are moving ahead, with the hope being that we’ll soon have better ways of treating the ill (or even severely ill).
All of this information speaks to something of a resurgent pandemic. And while a lot of factors go into this being the state of things, the bulk of the problem comes down to variants.
The COVID-19 Variants
The concept of COVID-19 variants essentially comes down to mutation. As they move from person to person, viruses mutate regularly — with most new mutations being harmless “passengers” that do little to alter conditions. At some point, however, a virus can mutate in a way that specifically makes it more effective in one way or another. An explanation by a University College London pathogen expert compared the process to natural selection. If a virus mutates in a way that makes it more effective, the new, mutated version will reproduce and become more prominent, surviving more frequently than its counterparts.
Unfortunately, the way this process carries out also involves greater transmission, because viruses need hosts to survive. In other words, a mutation doesn’t just make a virus stronger on its own; it makes it more likely to infect people, and then to thrive and reproduce within us.
It is this precise process that has led to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which now makes up a vast majority of all cases. Even back in July, Fortune posted an update stating that Delta accounted for 83% of U.S. cases. A month later, that number is getting quite close to 100%. Delta has proven to be far more contagious than any previous iteration of COVID-19, somewhat more deadly, and even slightly more effective at evading vaccine protections — though it must be stressed that vaccines are still extremely successful at preventing severe infection or death.
That said, Delta is not necessarily the last problematic variant. Others already exist, and the more we allow COVID-19 to spread, the more potential it has to mutate in even more problematic ways. It’s for this reason that proper safety and precaution remain essential.
COVID-19 Safety Tips
Once again, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is showing more potential to break through vaccine protection, even if the vast majority of resulting cases are minor. It is also far more dangerous for the unvaccinated, or people who are otherwise vulnerable due to age, underlying conditions, immunosuppression, and so on. For all of these reasons, it is now more important than ever to follow safety tips and execute proper precautions.
First and foremost, this means being certain in your diagnosis, so as to approach precautions and treatments appropriately. Upon the first hint of symptoms, you may first want to attempt to distinguish between COVID-19 and flu. There is some overlap in the symptoms, though the primary warning signs are often different. In numerous posts on the flu by the medial reference platform SymptomFind, it is made clear that nasal congestion, sore throat, and body aches are common signs. With COVID-19, on the other hand, coughing, fever, and a loss of taste and smell are usually among the first symptoms noticed. That said, if your symptoms are severe or worsening, or you’re at all suspicious that they could mean you’ve contracted COVID-19, it’s time to consider relevant care and safety.
As you begin this process, bear in mind that there is professional guidance for you out there. Doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants, and others can answer your COVID-related questions, and should directly guide the precautions you take.
With that said, there are also clear steps we’ll recommend through which you can make yourself and those around you safer. If you’re vaccinated, make sure you’re staying up to date on the potential need for booster shots — which are common and ordinary and will likely strengthen our protection. If you’re not vaccinated, and you don’t have a specific medical reason not to be, seek out a vaccine. Additionally, do your best to adhere to recommended precautions. Wear a mask (even if vaccinated, indoors); wash your hands and keep your distance from others when possible; and if you have any reason to believe you may have contracted COVID, stay isolated, monitor symptoms, and seek care if needed. (Though you should also do your best to check and differentiate symptoms to rule out more pedestrian maladies, as per our ‘Spring Has Sprung’ article a few months back!)
We now have a powerful vaccine, increasingly effective treatments, and a sound understanding of what we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, large unvaccinated populations, inconsistency with precautions, and the Delta variant have collectively amounted to a pandemic resurgence.
So long as this remains the case it is important to follow safety tips and adhere to guidelines from health organizations. If you do find yourself experiencing possible symptoms of COVID-19 — fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, aches and fatigue, loss of taste or smell, or in some cases a sore throat, mild congestion, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea — be sure to monitor your condition. If necessary, please schedule a visit to your local AppleCare Urgent Care.
Feature written for applecareurgentcare.com
by Joline Bysshe