Delta Rising

Concerns about the rapid rise of the Delta variant (first identified in India) is altering plans to re-open schools and possibly businesses, and is adding greater urgency to plans to get second doses into arms as soon as possible. (For vaccination news see article below).

Canada's Third Wave was fuelled by the variant that arose in the UK (now known as Alpha), which was about 50% more transmissible than the original form of COVID. Now, the Delta variant is thought to be that much more transmissible again, prompting warnings that it could become dominant in parts of Ontario by the end of the month and, if left unchecked, might prompt a fourth wave.

Delta – so named by the WHO which is using Greek letters to replace previously unwieldy numerical identifiers or national identifiers which could stigmatize people from those countries - is also thought to be more deadly. Making matters worse, it also appears to be somewhat resistant to antibodies produced from vaccination, especially after a single dose.

As reported in last week's newsletter, a recent UK study showed that only 33% of those who had received one dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer were fully protected from the Delta variant. After two doses, that percentage rose dramatically to 60 and 88 percent respectively. In both fully-vaccinated situations, there was about a 5 percent decline in effectiveness against Delta as compared to Alpha.

Additional studies will be needed to verify this data.

In the UK, where the Delta variant is causing a resurgence in new cases despite high levels of vaccination, officials are re-thinking much-touted re-opening plans. The same may be true in Ontario.

Already, it has been announced that Ontario's schools will remain closed to in-person learning until September, in part because of the risk that opening now would allow this variant to spread faster. Although most health officials favoured re-opening schools, they also cautioned that it should only be done if other re-openings were moved back two weeks.

This was not a trade-off the Premier – who has been musing that some re-openings could be moved forward – was willing to make. But concerns about Delta have likely stifled an early re-opening of businesses. To add to that, this week's numbers were several hundred above the consistent 500-600 daily cases the Province's Chief Medical Officer has said we need to drop to before any re-opening should occur.

Most health experts are urging caution to avoid a repeat of past mistakes when the Province began opening up while Second Wave numbers were still high and the UK variant was fuelling a Third Wave.

The New York Times recently published a mathematical example to illustrate how quickly a more transmissible variant can spread.

"If a virus that could previously infect three people on average can now infect four, it looks like a small increase. Yet if you start with just two infected people in both scenarios, just 10 iterations later, the former will have caused about 40,000 cases while the latter will be more than 524,000, a nearly 13-fold difference."

We might be rescued this time around by the combination of a successful vaccine rollout and the natural decline in cases which seems to come from warmer weather and more time spent outdoors. And, of course, we must continue to take personal responsibility by avoiding close contacts and masking when we can't – until we're fully vaccinated and the numbers get low enough to resume effective contact tracing.

Because the risks associated with eating in patios or seeing close friends and family in small outdoor gatherings are very low, I am very much hoping, and expecting, that these can begin on the June 14 target date.

This is Pride month, a celebration of respecting differences and encouraging everyone among us to be proud of who they are. This week's song was written for Martin Luther King – "They took your life, they could not take your pride" - but, more universally is a tribute to those who stand up against oppression and discrimination – as we all should.

- John