AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise as a result of the spread of the delta variant, health experts are asking even vaccinated people to take a step back, mask up and do additional testing.
We took some of your questions about the delta variant, testing and vaccines to Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an El Paso infectious disease specialist and member of the Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force and to Jeff Taylor, the manager of epidemiology and disease surveillance at Austin Public Health.
As someone who is vaccinated, am I more likely to spread the delta variant than the original strain of the virus?
Before the delta variant came along, you were roughly 80-90% less likely to transmit the virus to someone else than if you were unvaccinated, Dr. Alozie said. But that was prior to the delta variant.
Now, the CDC reports that people who test positive for the delta variant, and are fully vaccinated, had the same amount of virus in their nasal passage as people who are unvaccinated. That means even vaccinated people could be spreading the virus more quickly.
Still, both health experts say more research needs to be done.
“I think one of the things that we just don’t know, and one of the things that the CDC director and a host of other people have called out, is that we need more data and information on if you’re vaccinated, can you transmit the delta variant just as much, or is it reduced? We don’t have a good answer to that,” Dr. Alozie said.
What does the increase in breakthrough cases really mean?
Dr. Alozie says there’s been a lot of confusion surrounding breakthrough cases because it’s not something we’ve truly measured with infectious diseases before.
“I think people need to remember that in any other time period, let’s say you got the flu vaccine, if you got sick you didn’t get tested, it wasn’t counted as a breakthrough infection,” he said. “We kind of created this new terminology to create this new myth that because you wear a rain coat, you won’t get wet.”
Dr. Alozie says the most important thing to remember is that even though you can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, it is proven to significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or death.
Can I get tested specifically for the delta variant?
No. You can get tested for COVID-19, and in many cases, even if you’re vaccinated, you should — but that test will only tell you if you’re positive or negative for the virus. It will not tell you if you have a variant.
Dr. Alozie described it as “a general umbrella.”
A spokesperson for APH told KXAN it does not perform variant sequencing at any of their sites “as the technology is cost-prohibitive which is why many providers use the DSHS lab for variant sequencing.”
In a briefing before Travis County Commissioners Tuesday, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local Health Authority, explained that even though only 12 people have been confirmed to have the delta variant in Travis County, that number is likely much higher.
“In general, in Travis County, if you test positive for COVID you have (the) delta variant,” Taylor said. “There isn’t a need to sequence everybody’s positive test.”
Dr. Walkes explained that they use national data and research to estimate how widespread the delta variant is in Central Texas. Both Dr. Walkes and the APH spokesperson reiterated how important it is that people go get tested should they experience symptoms or become exposed.
If I test positive for COVID-19 and am vaccinated, should I assume it’s delta?
Both Dr. Alozie and Taylor say if you’re vaccinated and get the virus, it’s safe to assume that you have the delta variant, especially if you are in an area with lower vaccination rates.
“Eighty-three percent of all variants in the United States, as of last week, were delta — so there’s a good chance that if you are getting sick today you have delta,” Dr. Alozie said. “But again, I say this all the time, it’s like buying a house: location, location, location. The delta variant in Baton Rouge and Miami is going to be a lot different than Austin and El Paso.”
How long will this last?
Let’s start with the good news. In places where the delta variant has been prominent, there has been a sharp increase in cases, but a sharp decrease follows, according to Dr. Alozie.
“We are already beginning to see some of those changes in the states that are most hit by the delta variant so hopefully this will not last long,” he said.
The bad news? The more people hold off on not getting vaccinated, the more risk that we see other spinoff variants, and those variants could be harder to protect against. Dr. Alozie says it’s too early to tell when or if that could happen anytime soon.
When should I get tested?
The Center for Disease Control changed their recommendations Tuesday for people that are fully vaccinated as the delta variant continues to spread. Here are their new guidelines for fully vaccinated people on testing:
- Fully vaccinated people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are asked to get tested.
- If you are directly exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, or you suspect has COVID-19, you’re asked to get tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask for 14 days or until you test negative for the virus.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, the CDC says you need to isolate.
Where do I get tested?
APH has reopened several testing sites as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in central Texas. An appointment is not required, but is recommended.
- George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center is doing testing Tuesday-Friday from 1-7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Beginning Thursday, July 29, there will be an additional site at St. Johns that is also open Tuesday-Friday from 1-7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
You can make an appointment on the City of Austin’s website, by calling 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 or:
At home through Austin Public Health. Testing is done Monday through Friday during regular work hours, call the nurse hotline at 512-972-5560 to do an evaluation and schedule a test.
Clinics and pharmacies like CVS are offering COVID-19 testing at their Austin clinics. A representative for CVS told KXAN that their COVID-19 testing volume is “holding steady” and that they believe they will be able to meet demand even as central Texas sees a spike in cases.
Walgreens, similarly, said that they will continue to meet COVID-19 testing demands in Texas and around the nation.
“As we see the number of cases rise through the U.S., Walgreens is committed to ensuring our customers and patients have convenient access to testing at any time,” a Walgreens spokesperson said.