Since last December when the Delta strain of the coronavirus was identified in India, it has swept rapidly across other several countries including the United States, United Kingdom, and Nigeria, fuelling fresh anxiety among medical experts and people who initially thought the pandemic was receding with the arrival of vaccines.
Instead, the Delta, a highly contagious strain, is a major concern now as it is the dominant strain in most countries now.
When the strain was first reported in India, it formed the foundation of the deadly COVID-19 second wave and devastated big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Pune.
Amid the deadly wave, crematoriums ran out of space, and funerals took place in car parks. At a point, India reported over 400,000 new cases and over 3,500 new deaths within a day.
Even though the new strain has killed more people across many countries, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist and a vaccinologist at Yale Medicine, Dr Inci Yildirim, however says she isn’t surprised by what’s happening.
“All viruses evolve over time and undergo changes as they spread and replicate,” she says.
One thing that is unique about Delta is how quickly it is spreading, says Dr Perry Wilson, a Yale Medicine epidemiologist.
Around the world, “Delta will certainly accelerate the pandemic,” he says.
“The pandemic is not over, and delta changes the calculus,” Joel Wertheim, an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego, also tells The Washington Post.
Also in Nigeria, which has also recorded cases of the Delta COVID-19 variant, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, states that the figures must serve as a strong warning for people not to let down their guard.
The experts state that among other characteristics of the Delta strain, it is more contagious than the other virus strains, it poses a severe risk to unvaccinated people, and it can lead to “hyperlocal” outbreaks.
Even if already vaccinated, it is better to stay safe and not indulge in activities that can expose you to the Delta strain of the coronavirus.
The following are, therefore, activities that can expose you to the coronavirus, according to the NCDC, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and infectious disease experts.
The risk of contracting the Delta strain of the coronavirus is high, according to the CDC. Also, infectious disease expert at Westmed, US, Dr Sandra Kesh, tells CNET.com that flying is one of the riskiest situations to put yourself in when it comes to exposure to COVID-19.
Unless it’s absolutely necessary, Kesh warns against air travel until the majority of the population (or world) is vaccinated, or at the very least, until you’ve received the full dose of the vaccine.
She says, “Airports tend to be high-stress places. People are always worried about making their flight…going to the security checks – there’s a lot of distraction.
“So the kind of focus that we are able to maintain with social distancing, the masks and hand hygiene sometimes goes out the window because your attention is scattered. It’s noisy and you’re trying to figure out where to go. So even people who are well-meaning, the rules tend to go by the wayside.”
Kesh also says the other problem with airports is that you can encounter people from all over the country or the world and those people could be coming from high-risk places and carrying the virus with them.
“When you’re sitting on a plane waiting for it to take off, there is no air movement. If you turn on the fan above your head, that’s the only air moving. It’s a really terrific environment for one person to potentially infect the whole plane,” she says.
However, if you need to fly, you should wear a mask at all times. Absolutely do not fly if you have been exposed to someone who tested positive within the last two weeks or if you have symptoms yourself.
“When you get on the plane, be sure to wipe down your seat and tray with disinfectant wipes. If you can bring a seat cover, that’s even better. If you go to the bathroom on the plane, be sure to wash your hands and use hand sanitiser when you touch anything that others could touch,” Kesh adds.
Eating inside a restaurant
Eating inside at a restaurant can be risky for a few different reasons. First, being inside and around others puts you at risk of exposure to people carrying the virus. If you’re outside, it’s much more likely that anything in the air will disperse quickly, meaning there’s less of a chance of breathing in infected air particles.
At a restaurant, you are also going to be around people who are largely not wearing masks and covering their faces, since it’s pretty hard to keep a mask on while you eat. Finally, being around servers is also a risk since you will be talking to and interacting with them at a close proximity pretty frequently.
To stay safe, your best bet is to opt for takeout and eat at home. The next best choice is dining outside. Whether you dine inside or outside, you should make sure that the area is not crowded.
Also, look into the business’s safety guidelines and sanitation protocols – does it seem like the restaurant is taking extra safety measures and taking the virus seriously? Are all employees covering their faces at all times, even in the kitchen where you can’t see?
Many bars are open again, so it may be tempting to grab a drink with friends. But according to experts, bars are considered high-risk when it comes to your chance of contracting the virus. The first problem is that drinking disinhibits you, making it more likely that you or those around you will forget to wear a mask or to social distance.
“Bars are noisy, so you’re yelling your drink order at the bartender and other people are right by you – it’s really a perfect environment for that shared air space that we get so worried about,” Kesh says.
“In this case, totally avoiding bars if you’re not vaccinated is the best way to reduce risk. For now, drinking at home or outdoors, while social distancing, is the safest option,” she adds.
Seeing friends inside
Getting together with friends or family depends on the number of people, how well you know them and the amount of exposure they’ve had leading up to coming into contact with you, in addition to how many people in the group are vaccinated.
If you have a circle of friends who you know are vaccinated, then you’re safer than if you invite your friend over who is not vaccinated and maybe went to a bar the past weekend.
It’s much easier to spread the virus inside since people are likely gathered closer together, talking and touching surfaces like doors, tables and chairs. Some experts suggest that parties and other indoor gatherings of friends and family have caused a significant number of new cases.
Meanwhile, if you have friends over at your home, be sure to ask everyone to wear a mask and limit the number of people so you can remain properly spaced apart. Also, be selective about who you invite over – now is not the time to invite people you don’t really know or trust. Keep it limited to a close circle who you know have been vaccinated or are responsible when it comes to COVID-19 safety. If you can’t do that, then you should be outside and not indoors.
Also, be sure to encourage people to keep their distance and ventilate your home by opening windows and using fans and the AC if you have it.
Visiting the gym
Gyms aren’t necessarily the safest places to go these times. First of all, safety largely depends on how big the gym is, how crowded it is and how well you are able to distance yourself from others. Also, this does not include group fitness classes or group training, which could present more risk.
“The thing that makes the gym different from other places is you have a lot of people panting and we know that the more you exhale with force the farther those viral particles will go,” Kesh says.
“And the thing that’s harder to control is most people will not be wearing a mask when they’re trying to work out, so then you’re going to have a lot of forced exhaled air,” she adds.
Kesh recommends making sure that the gym is not crowded when you go. You can call beforehand and see if they are limiting people in the gym or ask how full it is before you go. You can also wear a mask while exercising in proximity to others, especially indoors.
Going to a barber’s
It may seem harmless, but getting a haircut at a barber’s can put you at significant risk of getting infected if you’re not vaccinated. The problem is that your hairstylist or barber has to be close to your head, sharing the same air with you.
Even if you’re wearing masks, experts stress that they don’t make you invincible, especially at such close proximity, though they will lessen your risk of transmitting or getting the virus.
But should you visit a barber’s or salon, experts say you should visit one that that is not crowded. The place should also be well-ventilated while the doors and windows should be kept open so there is good airflow. If the salon or barber’s has an air conditioner or fan, it should be turned on, experts advise.
According to experts, the most important thing to consider with grocery shopping is how crowded the mall is. It’s better to choose a mall that limits the capacity and where you know you will feel more safe. The more frequently you have to stand near someone, whether that’s in line or while selecting your food, the more risk you have of being exposed.
To reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus, experts advise to choose less crowded malls and go at off hours, like Tuesday night at 7 pm instead of Saturday morning at 10 am.
You should also check if the store is taking extra measures, like placing plexiglass or plastic barriers between you and the cashier, wiping down grocery carts after every use or taking measures to encourage social distancing like marking 6-foot distances on the floor in lines.