COVID-19: Health and Wellness Update from NHF’s Dr. Leonard Valentino

The cautious optimism of May and June with regards to emerging from the pandemic has shifted as we are witnessing a resurgence of cases of COVID-19 but now in the form of the delta (B.1.617.2) variant, a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain. This coronavirus has evolved and is very different for what we were dealing with in 2020 and even just a few short months ago!

First identified in India in December, the first case diagnosed in the United States was in March but now is the dominant strain in the U.S. This variant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is “the fastest and fittest” of the strains we have encountered since it is the most infectious version of the COVID-19 virus to date. All viruses evolve over time and undergo changes as they spread and replicate, introducing new mutations which with this variant make it more contagious than the other virus strains, thus infecting more people. Delta spreads about twice as easily from one person to another than previous strains of the virus because it infects people with a heavier virus load, which means when they breath, more virus particles are exhaled for others to catch. Wearing a mask is critical to curb the spread of this variant. Those at greatest risk however are the unvaccinated making vaccination ever more critical but Delta also seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants, possibly because of lower vaccination rates in these populations. This variant appears to cause more serious illness with 85% more hospitalizations that with the original virus in the population in 2020 and people who are infected get sicker faster than with the prior virus.

The data from vaccinated people continues to demonstrate good evidence of the safety of the available vaccines as well as their effectiveness to provide protection against the variants circulating in the United States. Some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious but virtually all hospitalizations and deaths have been seen among the unvaccinated. The CDC has recommended that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of Delta and protect others.

Bottom line here is to get vaccinated, wear a mask practice physical distancing and practice good hygiene to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.

The FDA has not yet approved vaccines for children younger than 12 years. Children ages 12 and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. Parents should vaccinate their children as early as possible and, if they’re not eligible for vaccination yet, continue to take precautions, such as masking and social distancing.

Please see the July 27th MMWR Report from the CDC titled “Guidance for Implementing COVID-19 Prevention Strategies in the Context of Varying Community Transmission Levels and Vaccination Coverage” for more information and for the latest recommendations, visit www.cdc.gov.

Two high profile Olympic athletes, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles raised the curtain on mental health for all of us. Osaka talked openly about her own mental health struggles after she was eliminated from the women’s Olympic tennis tournament. After winning five medals in Rio in 2016, Olympian Simone Biles prioritized her mental health over attempts to secure another medal at the 2020 Olympics currently underway in Japan. “I have to focus on my mental health,” Biles said, acknowledging that she had been struggling with the intense pressure. Mental health is an issue for all of us especially given the isolation, stress and fear that has come with the pandemic. The June 21st MMWR report from the CDC highlights that over half of surveyed public health workers reported depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. We are all feeling the impact of the life events unfolding around us. Resources are available from NHF and your HTC when needed. Like Osaka and Biles, reach out and let others know when you feel stressed, anxious, or fearful.

Source: National Hemophilia Foundation, August 2021