As health officials warn of an imminent 4th wave of Delta-driven COVID-19 infections, America’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is stressing the importance of getting tested for the virus — even if you are fully vaccinated.
“We used to say if you’re vaccinated and you come into contact with an infected person, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to test. You don’t need to isolate,” Fauci said during an interview with Global News reporter Jackson Proskow. “Now, that’s changed. Now, the recommendation is that you should be tested even if you’re vaccinated.”
Fauci’s comments come on the heels of a new study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which warns that the Delta COVID-19 variant could be as contagious as the chickenpox, and a report that points to a chain of outbreaks among vaccinated individuals.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, is “substantially more efficient in transmitting from person to person” when compared to other variants, and “no vaccine is 100 percent effective,” Fauci explained.
“When you measure the level of [the] virus in the nasal pharynx of a vaccinated person who has [had] a breakthrough infection with Delta,” Fauci said, the detected virus level is “high and equivalent to the level of virus in the nasal pharynx of an unvaccinated person.”
That is not the case with other variants.
For instance, the level of virus found in the nasal pharynx of a vaccinated individual who happens to be infected with the Alpha variant is much lower than that of an unvaccinated person.
This “strongly” suggests that the Delta variant’s ability to transmit is unhindered by an individual’s vaccination status, Fauci said.
“It is very clear now that [vaccinated people] can transmit the infection to others.”
Last week, the U.S. CDC recommended that fully vaccinated Americans should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus — and especially the Delta variant — are spreading rapidly.
The change marked a reversal of the agency’s earlier announcement in May that motivated millions of vaccinated Americans to drop their face coverings.
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Dr. David Doudy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the CDC guidance was motivated by a change in infection patterns.
“We’re seeing this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.
The CDC said that 63 per cent of U.S. counties had high transmission rates that warranted mask-wearing.
New cases per day in the U.S. have increased six-fold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360.
Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control at Colorado’s UCHealth said research from China suggests the Delta variant replicates much faster and generates 1,000 times more virus in the body compared to the original coronavirus strain, highlighting the biggest danger of this new wave.
“This is like a wildfire, this is not a smoldering campfire. It is full-on flames right now,” Barron said.
Other doctors said patients infected with Delta appeared to become ill faster, and sometimes showed more severe symptoms, than those they treated earlier in the pandemic.
“We are seeing more patients requiring oxygen sooner,” said Dr. Benjamin Barlow, chief medical officer at American Family Care, a 28-state chain of urgent care clinics.
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At his clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, Barlow recorded 20 per cent of the patients testing positive for COVID-19, compared with the two-to-three per cent a few weeks ago.
David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, said the Delta variant is more infectious and leads to faster onset of illness.
“Frankly there’s a severity that comes from this variant that is a little more severe,” Montefiori said on a webcast last week. “It’s not just easier to transmit, it makes you sicker.”
Fauci reiterated the same.
“It’s just a very dominant variant,” he told Global News. “It’s already in over one hundred and twelve countries. So the horse is out of the barn, as it were.”
“Wherever Delta has been, it invariably is so efficient in transmitting from person to person that it always seems to push out the other variants and become dominant,” Fauci explained. “We’ve seen that in the United States. A few months ago it was two, three or so percent. Then it went up to 20, then 50, then 80, and now it’s close to 90 percent.”
Nevertheless, Fauci is optimistic.
He said adaption is key when it comes to dealing with this ever-evolving virus.
“[As] the science evolves, the evidence evolves,” he said. “Your approach and your guidelines and your recommendations need to evolve. And that’s exactly what happened in the United States with the change in the CDC guidelines.”
Canadian experts too are optimistic. However, they don’t think that a Delta-driven 4th wave would be as big as the previous ones given Canada’s current vaccinations rates.
Even with the country’s rise in cases, Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University said that the virus would primarily affect unvaccinated communities, highlighting the fact that over 97 per cent of all new cases in Canada were among those who did not get a jab.
Canada added at least another 218 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing its total infections to 1,431,219. Two additional deaths were reported as well, with the country’s overall death toll now standing at 26,600. Over 1.39 million people have recovered from the coronavirus and more than 49.5 million vaccinations have been doled out so far.
Dr. Ronald St John, former WHO director for the Americas and national manager for Canada’s response to SARS, also expressed caution when interpreting the findings of the internal CDC report.
Speaking on the Roy Green show, he mentioned that the data in the report was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.
“How often [the Delta variants] spread, the frequency of spread — that’s what’s not clear to me in the data that’s been presented so far,” he said. “I think it’s just been an internal document that’s been spread around. So I’m waiting to see a little more data.”
-With files from Global News’ David Lao and Reuters
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