Delta Variant Information

Dr. Jennifer Khelil Talks COVID-19 Variants


On August 3, Dr. Jennifer Khelil, chief medical officer of Virtua Health, participated in the Philadelphia Inquirer's "Live at Lunch" interview series, hosted on Instagram.

Dr. Khelil answers many common questions about the Delta variant of COVID-19, including advice for parents and back-to-school suggestions.

Understanding the Delta Variant


We sat down with Dr. Martin Topiel, our infectious disease expert, to break down everything you need to know about the new Delta variant.

How is the Delta variant different from “regular” COVID-19?
The CDC has openly stated that this is a “different infection” compared to the previous strains of COVID-19 and needs to be thought of and handled differently. There are two important things to note: Delta is extremely contagious – much more than the previous strains – and it is most often more severe among unvaccinated people. 

First, let’s talk about how contagious it is. I’ve read estimates that, on average, one infected person will infect eight to 10 others. Those eight to 10 people would then go on to infect eight to 10 more people –it’s easy to see how it has spread so quickly and emerged as such a threat. 

In regards to symptoms, we are still learning, but the data available so far indicates that unvaccinated people who contract the Delta variant are, generally, sicker than those who had earlier strains of COVID-19.

Do vaccinated people need to be concerned?
Everyone needs to take this seriously. The COVID-19 vaccines have, essentially, been a miracle in how well they protect against COVID-19. And yet, the Delta variant is resulting in more “breakthrough” cases among fully vaccinated people. It may not be a giant number when you think of how many millions of people are vaccinated, but it’s very real when it happens to you or someone you love.

The good news is that, for the most part, these are mild to moderate cases, and that vaccinated people are not getting ill to the extent of requiring hospitalization. What’s tricky is that a vaccinated person may acquire the Delta variant, feel perfectly fine, and inadvertently shed the virus to many others, including unvaccinated or vulnerable individuals who could become severely ill or worse.

What impact is Delta having in New Jersey specifically?
The Northeast is not experiencing the same surge as other parts of the country, notable the South. This is, without question, due to the relatively high vaccination rates in states like New Jersey and its neighbors. 

Still, the numbers are going up again, particularly in Burlington County, and right here at Virtua’s hospitals. 

Should vaccinated people change their behaviors at home and in public?
I know it’s tough news to take, but I would recommend people return to earlier habits around social distancing and mask-wearing. This is especially true if they have compromised immunity or interact with someone who is at greater risk. The weather is nice this time of year, so I recommend people interact with friends and loved ones outside, whenever possible, and to keep those gatherings small. 

What should parents of children too young for vaccination do?
Parents of young children are in a difficult position, especially with schools reopening in the fall. Children are developing illness and requiring hospital care to a much larger degree than they had been previously. That is why the national pediatric associations all recommend children ages 2 and older wear masks when indoors at public spaces. It’s also possible for children to be carriers of the virus and transmit it to others.

In the short term, I would talk to the parents of your children’s friends and see if you are on the same page when it comes to vaccinations. This doesn’t need to be a confrontation, simply a conversation. Since children cannot currently be vaccinated, I think parents should try to ensure that their children primarily interact with adults who are vaccinated. 

If I feel mildly sick – a summer cold or allergies – what should I do?
I would recommend you take those manageable, minor illnesses more seriously now than you might have in 2019 or earlier. Even something you would typically dismiss as a cold or runny nose should be given extra consideration as possibly COVID. 

We can’t be too careful, and so the smart thing to do is to stay home until you are well and minimize your interactions with others, even in your household. For the safety of your coworkers, please do not report to work if you are unwell, even mildly. 

How does a person know if they have the regular strain of COVID or the Delta variant?
They might not know, as that information is not readily available. The viral tests that are widely available are used to determine if you have COVID, not what kind of COVID it might be. That requires a special test called genomic sequencing. 

Some of the current data suggests that around 85 percent of the current strains are of the Delta variant. Given that – and how contagious Delta is – err on the side of caution and monitor your health and systems closely.  

Will the Delta variant dissipate?
That is not an easy question to answer. A virus, by its nature, will continue to mutate. In many cases, it will adapt to become more resistant to vaccines and our other safety measures. So not only will the Delta variant continue to spread so long as there are hosts to acquire it, but there will most certainly be additional variants in the future if we don’t put an end to COVID-19.

What is your takeaway message?
First and foremost, if you are not vaccinated yet, do not wait another day. Leaving yourself vulnerable is a dangerous thing to do. 

For those who are vaccinated, do not panic. You are well-protected, but will need to exercise a bit more caution than before. It’s frustrating that the rules and recommendations always seem to be changing, but that is the reality of this time period.

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