“The war has changed.” That’s what the CDC says about the way the Delta variant has upended our coronavirus policies. Delta is astonishingly contagious. It can generate 1,000 times the viral load of the original coronavirus strain, and it spreads with the ease of chickenpox. The vaccinated can no longer assume immunity. The unvaccinated are at more risk than ever, and masks are back.
But, what do we actually know about Delta? If you’re vaccinated, is it more or less likely to kill you than the flu? Is it more serious for children? Are we re-masking to protect the unvaccinated, or is this also for the vaccinated? What are the risks of long COVID for the vaccinated? These, and other questions, were asked of Dr. Matt Richardson, Director of Public Health for Denton County, during a video interview at my home on Wednesday morning.
In March of this year, I interviewed Dr. Richardson on Zoom video. For this current video below, taped at my Flower Mound home at Dr. Richardson’s request, we wore masks, even though we both had been fully vaccinated some months before this interview.
The following is a short bio of Dr. Richardson.
“Dr. Matt Richardson was appointed as the Director of Public Health for Denton County in the summer of 2014. Dr. Richardson previously served as Director with the City of Amarillo and Potter/Randall Counties for 9 years. Dr. Richardson has authored peer-reviewed publications, testified to the Texas Legislature regarding public health issues and continues to advocate for public health practice and resources for Denton County and the state of Texas. He has a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Abilene Christian University and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Public Health from the University of North Texas. He is currently board certified and Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Dr. Richardson also serves as an accreditation site reviewer for public health programs in universities across the US. Matt lives in Argyle with his wife of 24 years and their two daughters.”
So in May, the CDC said that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors, which was a sweet moment. You could walk around to see people’s faces, smile at them, breathe freely. It was great.
But then recently, the CDC changed course. They said that even vaccinated people should be wearing masks indoors in places with substantial or high Covid transmission. What that means seems to differ from place to place. I’m in San Francisco. We have a pretty low absolute level of Covid, although cases have been going up. But we are back now to the universal indoor masking even though we’ve incredibly high vaccination rates too.
So behind all this is the Delta variant, which can spread through the vaccinated, rips through the unvaccinated. I mean it is as contagious, it seems, as chickenpox, which is wild.
In the CDC’s very vivid phrase on this, “the war has changed.” But I don’t think the messaging here has been very clear. I mean, how has it changed and for whom? And much more to the point, how does it get won? Like what is the vision here for victory? What is the end game? What level of risk can we get to? What level of risk will we tolerate? What are the risks here to children? What if you’re just gutted to be putting the mask back on and you realize now that even vaccination won’t end this, which is something that we were told it would do?