Delta Variant: 'The War Has Changed’ on COVID-19Coronavirus (COVID-19)
(Editor's Note: COVID-19 data quickly changes, so please check back to this article for updated numbers or check leehealth.org.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges “the war has changed” in response to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The CDC reports that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, can be spread even by vaccinated people, and can cause more serious disease than earlier COVID-19 strains.
Hospitalizations and cases continue to increase across Florida hospitals as the delta variant spreads throughout the state and residents returned to pre-pandemic activities. As of Aug. 9, Florida leads the nation in per capita hospitalizations for COVID-19, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
The good news? Vaccinations
But there’s good news. Dr. Larry Antonucci, CEO and President of Lee Health, said that approved vaccines remain the best way to prevent hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and vaccines are readily available for those who are eligible.
“If you have not been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to seriously consider it,” Dr. Antonucci said. “There is significant evidence for the safety and efficacy of the vaccines; and the risks associated with getting COVID-19 are higher than those of the vaccines.”
People who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 represent the vast majority of patients hospitalized during the surge. As of Aug. 8, Lee Health reported that 704 of 824 patients hospitalized were unvaccinated.
Dr. Antonucci also encourages people to resume social distance safety precautions and wear masks while inside public places.
According to the CDC, the amount of virus in a person infected with delta is a thousand times more than what is seen in people infected with the original version of the virus. The new evidence prompted the CDC to update guidance for fully vaccinated people.
"High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raise concerns that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, said in a statement. “The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.”
The vaccine clinic is available through Lee Health on Tuesdays and Fridays at Gulf Coast Medical Center. Walk-ins are welcome.
Emergency department visitation changes
Due to the current capacity and the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 delta variant, Lee Health is restricting visitation in our emergency departments (ED) and our Lee Convenient Care sites until further notice. Visitors will only be granted access in the ED for compassionate care or if they are needed to gather information related to providing care (and thus allowed in the ED at the discretion of our staff).
Patients in the obstetrics ED at HealthPark Medical Center will be allowed to have one visitor. This change to ED visitation is in place at Cape Coral Hospital, Gulf Coast Medical Center, HealthPark Medical Center and Lee Memorial Hospital. At Golisano Children's Hospital, visitation in the ED will be limited to two support people (parent/guardian/support person).
Maternity services visitation changes
Due to the current surge of COVID-19 cases and the highly contagious nature of the delta variant, we are updating our visitation policy for Lee Health Maternity Services until further notice. One support person is permitted with the patient in OB Triage/OB Emergency Room, and two support persons are permitted with the patient in Labor and Delivery, Antepartum and Mother Baby.
One support person may spend the night in Labor and Delivery, Antepartum and Mother Baby. Children under 12 years of age are not permitted at this time.
We have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past 16 months, but even after all this time, many people still have questions, especially now regarding the vaccines and variants.
Mary Beth Saunders, D.O., system medical director epidemiology, answers some of our questions.
Q: How soon after someone has had COVID should they be vaccinated?
A. Even if you have had COVID -19, it is possible that you could be infected with coronavirus again. It is not yet known how long you are protected from getting sick after recovering from COVID-19, so vaccination is important.
According to studies, being vaccinated provides a boost in protection in people who have recovered from COVID-19. You can receive a COVID-19 vaccination any time after recovering, as long as you are no longer infectious, which is usually about 10 days after your first symptom. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Q. Are there any concerns about developing autoimmune diseases after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. There is no evidence to support that COVID-19 vaccines can cause autoimmune diseases.
Q. What are your thoughts regarding the potential long-term effects of an mRNA vaccine on the immune system, especially in someone who has recently had COVID-19?
A. mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines deliver a message to your immune system that instructs it to produce antibodies to fight infection. This mRNA degrades rapidly leaving no long-term evidence of that genetic material. mRNA vaccines have been studied for decades and have been found to be safe and effective. They do not alter DNA and never enter the nucleus of the cell where the DNA resides.
Vaccinations for COVID have been proceeding for slightly longer than one year with no recognized long-term effects.
Q. If people are positive for antibodies after recovering from COVID-19, then receive the COVID-19 vaccine soon after recovering, is there any concern about overwhelming or overloading the immune system?
A. With natural immunity, which usually occurs after having had a viral infection, the immune response can vary. There is no definitive evidence of how protective antibody responses are. You may have more or less protection depending on the amount of the virus to which you were exposed.
However, it is known that vaccine does provide effective protection and can prevent severe infections, hospitalizations and death.
Get the vaccine, wear your masks, socially distance when around others, and stay home if you are sick.
Learn More! Virtual Town Hall Meeting
Tune in Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. for a Virtual Town Hall Meeting to learn more about the COVID-19 status. This virtual town hall will be hosted on Lee Health’s Facebook. This Facebook Live will be interactive to give the community a chance to have their questions answered.
You can RSVP here.