The US is swinging back to life pre-COVID. About 57% of American adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, states and attractions across the country are reopening, and the number of new coronavirus cases continues to drop. As conditions improve in the US, Americans are getting ready to travel again – one survey found that half of the adults in the US plan to take a summer vacation. But there’s one thing that could complicate those plans: the delta variant.
Remember: there are a number of variants around the US. But the delta variant (aka B16172) is the most contagious one (think: 60% more contagious than some variants), and can cause more severe illness. It was first detected in October in India, and contributed to the massive outbreak there. Now it’s spread to at least 92 countries, and experts warn that places in the US with lower vaccination rates (like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) could become pockets with dangerous outbreaks of the delta variant. The CDC has dubbed it a “variant of concern.” The agency also identified the delta as the most dominant strain in the US. And it’s continuing to cause issues for a number of countries, including…
Israel: On June 25, Israel reimposed its indoor mask mandate amid a wave of new COVID-19 infections. At least 70% were caused by the Delta variant – and about half of those infected were believed to have been fully vaccinated with Pfizer. The infections were believed to be asymptomatic or mild. The news has raised alarms – especially since Israel has a high vaccination rate.
The UK: The delta variant is dominant there, and a surge has delayed reopening plans. Starting July 1, Hong Kong is banning all passenger flights from the UK, labeling it as “extremely high-risk” because of the variant. Experts warn that what’s going on in the UK could be a preview of what’s to come in the US, since both places have similar vaccination rates.
Australia: The continent has largely remained open throughout the pandemic thanks to strict measures like border closures and contact tracing measures that resulted in very low levels of, or at points zero, transmission of the virus. But it has one of the lowest vaccination rates among developed countries (less than 5% of its population is fully vaccinated) – and it’s now experiencing a number of outbreaks caused by the the delta variant. Places like Sydney and Perth have gone into lockdown, with other parts of Australia implementing mask mandates.
The severity of the strain has experts urging Americans – especially those traveling – to get vaccinated and to complete their vaccine series if they got a Pfizer or Moderna shot (both of which require two doses). Preliminary data from the UK has shown that both of those vaccines work well against the delta variant. (Note: this research was released in May before the variant became more widespread globally.) CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also told CNN that studies are being conducted to see how well Johnson & Johnson’s shot stacks up against the variant.
The CDC has given the OK for fully vaccinated people to travel – but says those who aren’t fully vaccinated should delay travel because it increases their risk of getting and spreading the virus. If you’re unvaccinated but are still planning to travel, here are the CDC’s suggestions for how to stay safe.
In late June, the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue taking additional safety precautions like wearing a mask and maintaining social distance to keep themselves safe. (Reminder: the vaccines aren’t 100% effective, and people can still get breakthrough infections – though they’re rare). So even if mask mandates aren’t implemented wherever you’re headed, you may want to consider wearing one to get an extra layer of protection.
Which brings us to an important note: countries may have testing, quarantine, or mask requirements – which may change at any point, especially given the spread of the delta variant. So make sure to check what’s required wherever you’re traveling before you leave – and what’s required for when you’re traveling back home. If you’re planning to travel with kids who are unvaccinated this summer, we’ve got more info on how to keep them safe – both while traveling and in other situations (think: playing with other kids, at camp, etc).
After more than a year of cutting back travel plans, Americans are eager to hit the roads and airports this summer. But the delta variant is making things a bit more complicated – both at home and around the world. So it’s important to do your part to keep yourself and others safe, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Last updated on June 28 – Updated to include the latest information on the delta variant's impact around the world.
Skimm'd by Maria Martinolich and Kamini Ramdeen
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