AUSTIN (KXAN) — After announcing a town hall with local and national health leaders and policy makers, dozens of people wrote to KXAN with questions and concerns about COVID-19. While many of those questions were brought before leaders Wednesday night, not all of them could be addressed live.
KXAN is not only working to respond to each individual inquiry, but wants to provide answers to some of those most frequently asked questions.
Q: Do people in the hospital, vaccinated or unvaccinated, still overwhelmingly have underlying health conditions?
In a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Austin Public health released data on which underlying health conditions were associated with breakthrough cases in Travis County. That data showed the more than 50% of people experiencing a breakthrough case had no underlying health conditions.
Though that data shows a relatively even split, health experts still say people with underlying health conditions need to be extra cautious.
Dr. Charles Lerner, Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force Member: “All people with serious underlying chronic medical conditions like chronic lung disease, a serious heart condition, or a weakened immune system are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. However, the delta variant is more contagious than COVID-19 and could have more serious consequences for patients with pre-existing conditions. If a patient is vaccinated, their antibody levels after immunization are significantly higher than the antibody levels produced by a natural infection.”
Q: For people who have recovered from COVID-19, do the antibodies protect against the delta variant?
APH: “While antibodies will provide some protections, the studies have shown that the antibodies are not as effective against delta as they were against the original strain. This is why we are urging the public to get vaccinated and wear a mask so they can have the highest level of protection against Delta and any other variants.”
Q: If someone experiences a breakthrough case, do they have the ability to spread the virus after recovering?
Dr. Lerner: “On Wednesday the Director of the CDC stated that delta is transmissible by people who are immune to COVID-19. I have not seen these data published anywhere. We know that immunized people are less likely to spread the original strain. It is very reasonable to presume that this would hold true for the delta variant as well.”
APH: “Currently it averages that someone is COVID free after 10 days without symptoms. After those 10 days, the individual is typically considered not to be infectious at that point.”
Q: How should vaccinated people be acting?
Many have been asking whether or not vaccinated people should be doing things like gathering in groups, eating at restaurants, and going back to work in person.
In a briefing Thursday, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, laid out new Stage 5 guidelines which address some of those concerns.
- For high-risk individuals, indoor and outdoor private gatherings are not recommended at all, with or without precautions, travel is discouraged unless essential, dining should be outdoors with precautions, and shopping should be takeaway or curbside.
- For low-risk individuals, indoor and outdoor private gatherings should be with precautions, travel and shopping should also be with precautions, and dining should be outdoors and with precautions.
Dr. Walkes said when it comes to what vaccinated and masked people are doing or not doing, it’s best to “make that assessment on a personal basis.”
She said places you’ll be safest will have good ventilation, or that are outdoors, and are following best COVID-19 safe practices like requiring employees get vaccinated and wear their masks.
That guidance matches guidance KXAN got from Dr. Jan Patterson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Texas San Antonio, and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force last week.
Patterson said people that are high-risk or have underlying health conditions should take extra precautions.
She recommended those at-risk people reconsider trips and going back to work in-person, but added: “If you’re going back to a setting where people are vaccinated and people are wearing masks when they’re in meetings and in groups, that’s a pretty safe environment, but you have to be careful that that’s what you’re stepping into.”
She said for vaccinated people who are not immunocompromised, wear your mask to travel, to work and in public indoor settings.
You can watch the town hall, and read the transcript, here.
Have additional questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and she will work to get answers for you, or respond with previous KXAN coverage that provides answers.