From the beginning, two facts about COVID-19 have perplexed the experts. Fact One: People may be infected yet not have symptoms. Fact Two: These asymptomatic people can communicate the virus to others.
What this has meant is that anyone you meet on the street could give you COVID. You'd never know who you got it from.
Think about it. If we knew who the carriers of COVID were, we could just avoid them. Lockdowns would be unnecessary. Society could just isolate the infected. As for masks, it would mainly be caregivers who'd need to wear them.
Alas, because there are asymptomatic carriers, we haven't known whether the people we encountered were infected. And now, with the highly contagious Delta variant our dominant strand, there's more bad news. It isn't just the unvaccinated from whom you can get COVID. You can get it from anyone.
Maybe even me.
Having been fully vaccinated in mid-February, I assumed I had been relegated to the role of mere coronavirus observer. Clinical trials had shown the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which I got, to be more than 90% effective in preventing infection and 100% effective in preventing death.
Against the Delta variant, Pfizer and Moderna are apparently less effective against infection. The medical establishment is seeing increasing numbers of "breakthrough" cases, so called because the virus has broken through the protective defenses afforded by the vaccine. These people aren't dying and for the most part not being hospitalized, though some have reportedly felt pretty crappy for a few days.
No one knows how common these breakthrough cases are. It's clear, though, from a recent outbreak in Massachusetts that they aren't rare events. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…)
What's unclear is how many of the vaccinated have been infected without knowing it. A study conducted earlier this year, pre-Delta, suggested vaccination reduced the risk of asymptomatic infection by 72%. (https://www.pharmacytimes.com/….) That's encouraging, but it means there's still some risk.
So even though I'm vaccinated I could be walking around with this dreaded coronavirus and not know it. The only way to know is to be tested. My last test was six months ago.
The people I encounter could, then, get COVID-19 from me. How serious is the risk? No one knows, but it's more than theoretically possible.
Because people like me can be carriers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising us to wear masks again. Not always and everywhere, but in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces in parts of the country with a lot of cases.
Some of these high-transmission areas are in rural America. According to the Daily Yonder, the number of new infections in rural counties tripled between the last week in June and the last week in July. (https://dailyyonder.com/…. Thankfully, the number of deaths has remained relatively low so far.
As someone who cares about farmers and other rural Americans, I don't want to give COVID to anyone. But I can only partially control that.
If I have symptoms, you won't see me; I'll self-quarantine. If we're together in a crowded room with no ventilation, I'll wear a mask. If you're unvaccinated, though, I could pose a threat. Anyone could.
This makes the Delta variant doubly dangerous. Not only is it more contagious than the previous Alpha variant. It can be communicated by many more people.
The way I see it, if you're unvaccinated you have three options.
You can stay away from me -- and for that matter, from anyone who isn't wearing a mask.
You can wear a mask yourself.
Or -- dare I say it -- you could think again about whether remaining unvaccinated is a good idea.
That vaccinated people are becoming infected is not a reason to reject vaccination. Your odds of being infected are still far lower if you're vaccinated. Most importantly, your odds of hospitalization and death are still miniscule.
Whatever you consider the downsides of vaccination to be, the upside is big.
Urban Lehner can be reached at email@example.com
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