Delta Variant Prompts WHO Warning, Mask Requirement In Israel, U.K. Reopening Delay, Growing Concern That The U.S. Is Next

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Nearly 48 million Americans are expected to take a trip over the upcoming 4th of July weekend, according to AAA. That’s up 40% from last summer’s pandemic-reduced numbers and down just slightly from 2019. 

People across the U.S. are also eating in restaurants again — without masks. Movie theaters have reopened. Sports arenas and concert venues are selling out. States — notably hard-hit regions like New York and California — have reopened. As CA Gov. Gavin Newsom is fond of saying, “We’re roaring back.”

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For showbizzers, the film festival season has begun, with Tribeca welcoming a near-normal crowd over the last two weeks. A rescheduled Cannes is set to go from July 6-17, with Venice and Toronto on the itinerary for September. But amid the return to normalcy, there are new notes of uncertainty. 

On Friday, the World Health Organization urged even fully-vaccinated people to wear masks and socially distance. WHO officials noted a large portion of the world remains unvaccinated and the highly contagious Delta variant is spurring outbreaks across the globe.

Israel on Friday reinstated indoor mask requirements due to the variant’s spread. According to the Wall Street Journal, “About half of adults infected in an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Israel were fully inoculated with the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.” Israel is one of the most highly-vaccinated countries in the world, with about 80% of citizens over 16 fully innoculated.

Watch: What you need to know about COVID-19 variants

The country’s number of new daily cases produced by the outbreak was only 200, but that was up from 10 daily cases seen through most of June. Delta seemed to be plowing through the immunity provided by the vaccine and afflicting those with stronger immune systems, as well. According the the WSJ, “Children under 16, most of whom haven’t been vaccinated, accounted for about half of those infected.”

A similar scenario has played out in the U.K. A recent study by the Imperial College London found that, as infections surged earlier this month, the increase was driven by mostly non-vaccinated young people, who are supposedly less susceptible. The study found 5-fold higher rate of test positivity among children 5 to 12 years and adults 18 to 24 than in those 65 or older.

“There does appear to be very good protection in the older age groups, where virtually everyone has been doubly vaccinated,” said senior study author Paul Elliott. According to Johns Hopkins University, 48% of adults in the U.K. are fully vaccinated. In the U.S., according to Hopkins, 46% of adults are fully vaccinated.

The oftcited Dr. Robert Wachter, Chair of the UCSF Dept. of Medicine, said this week, “I tend to see the U.K. as the U.S. a month ahead: They seem to get the variants about a month before we do, their vaccination rates have been a little bit ahead of the U.S., and so the fact that the Delta variant went from a few cases to become the dominant variant in a month or two in the U.K. means that’s very likely to be what happens in the U.S.”

Dr. Wachter went on to note that California had recently dropped many of its strictures on masking and social distancing. “I suspect we’ll get away with that for a few months, but I have a feeling that in the fall, in parts of the United States that are not well vaccinated today that we are going to start seeing surges. And the question is, are we going to have the political will to go back top a more restrictive existence. I think that’s going to be hard to do.”

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

The U.K., two weeks after it paused reopening, on Wednesday recorded its highest number of daily cases since early February. 

While the U.S. at large has not yet seen a similar spike in daily cases, according to the New York Times, many of the states seeing the largest two-week increases in cases — including Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, Utah and Oklahoma — all have vaccination rates well below the national rate. And those rates do not include the approximately 15% of the U.S. population under 12 who are not, at this time, eligible for Covid-19 vaccines.

The CDC estimates the Delta variant made up only 2.7% of new cases on May 22. By last week, it accounted for about 10% of new cases in the U.S. This past week, that percentage rose to 20%, according to White House Covid advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Fauci said the proportion of new cases attributable to Delta in the U.S. is doubling every two weeks. So in two weeks, that 20% of new cases will become 40%. At that rate, the variant would be close to 100% of by the end of July. 

“So you would expect, just the doubling time, you know, in several weeks to a month or so it’s going to be quite dominant, that’s the sobering news,” said Fauci.

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