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Coronavirus

Experts weigh risks of crowds amid fast-spreading Delta COVID variant

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public, indoor settings if they’re in a gathering located “in an area of substantial or high transmission rates,” accounting for over 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of over 8 percent.

“It’s not that you can’t have a party or shouldn’t have a party, but let’s give strategies to think through how to make it as safe as possible,” Vice dean for education at the US John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Publish Health Elizabeth Stuart told news media USA Today.

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Health experts across the world have been concerned about crowded events such as concerts, even though most of them now require proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests, as they pose an increased risk in virus transmission, particularly worrying when the delta variant is the most dominant strain.

“The main challenge there [large gatherings] is going to be that any attendee won’t know everyone else’s vaccination status, and we are seeing that delta is much more transmissible than previous versions of COVID And so even if it’s a small proportion of people that are infected, the chance of it transmitting is going to be higher,” said Stuart.

The CDC last month urged fully vaccinated people to carry on wearing masks indoors in some areas, as experts weigh the risks of being in crowded places.

People walk along a crowded street at a commercial area as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Mexico City, Mexico July 23, 2021. (Reuters)
People walk along a crowded street at a commercial area as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Mexico City, Mexico July 23, 2021. (Reuters)

The agency then reversed its previous guidance on exempting vaccinated individuals from wearing masks in most public places as coronavirus infections were beginning to spike rapidly across the country.

Experts have attributed the spike to the delta coronavirus strain, first identified in India.

The variant now accounts for 93 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last week, and has been spreading rapidly across the world, with studies showing its ability to make vaccines less effective.

Large outdoor gatherings are generally considered to be a lot safer than large indoor gatherings, however, experts continue to warn people that COVID-19 can still be transmitted outside, especially in crowded places.

When it comes to crowded outdoor gatherings, the CDC recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks. Such events would include sporting events or music festivals and concerts.

“There’s no such things as safe,” director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group Dr. Gregory Poland was quoted as saying by USA Today, in reference to a comparison he made between vaccinated people who wear masks and drivers who wear seatbelts or stop at stop signs.

People wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they stroll in downtown Rome, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP)
People wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they stroll in downtown Rome, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP)

“There’s only safer, and that only happens by layering one mitigation measure on top of another,” he added.

Poland believes that small gatherings with other vaccinated people are safe for parents of children who are too young to take the vaccine but cautioned that parents with unvaccinated children attending a large gathering would still be risky as vaccinated people could still catch and spread the virus to others.

He added that while it is safe for vaccinated parents to attend events with other vaccinated adults and unvaccinated children, the risk of infection could increase if children are attending day cares or schools where they would be around other unvaccinated kids.

“In my mind, you’re taking a risk that’s not necessary,” he said.

The CDC has cautioned that vaccinated or immunocompromised people should be aware of the possibility that vaccines may not be as effective as the virus continues to spread. Meaning that all immunocompromised people, regardless of the spread of the virus in their given community, should continue to wear masks in public and avoid large crowds and indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated.

Stuart told USA Today that she would avoid indoor events and opt for an outdoor concert instead, if she were an immunocompromised person, adding that people attending such events should stay away from crowds, wear tight-fitting masks, and use hand sanitizer regularly.

Her advice to people was that they should be “mindful with the event itself, in terms of who else is there. What do you know about the interactions they’ve been having? How much have they been out and about? Try to scope out how much risk it feels there might be.”

She added that fully vaccinated people could safely attend small gatherings with other vaccinated people, especially if they are not at a high risk of severe infection.

“We’re all very ready to have social gatherings, and it’s important to be gathering with friends and family,” said Stuart. “I think the key things are to keep it small, you know, a couple of households.”

However, those looking to host large gatherings such as a wedding or a big party that would bring together people from multiple households should weigh the risks such as traveling and lodging for their guests. She added that hosts should also consider holding their events in better ventilated areas, preferably outdoors, and encourage guests to get fully vaccinated before attending.

Read more:

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Delta COVID-19 infection: New symptoms to watch out for

People with higher belief in science more likely to wear masks amid COVID-19: Report