Doctors worry about upcoming school year with spreading delta variant

Aug 2, 2021, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:23 am
Students walk to their buses following school at Rose Springs Elementary in Erda, Tooele County, on...
Students walk to their buses following school at Rose Springs Elementary in Erda, Tooele County, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Photo credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors are worried about the upcoming school year amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. 

With children under age 12 still ineligible for the vaccine and data showing fully vaccinated people can spread the new variant, infectious disease experts are concerned. There are only a few weeks until many school districts welcome students back to the classroom.

Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease specialist Dr. Todd Vento said the U.S. likely will not have vaccine doses for younger children until near the end of the year. Until then, Vento said the delta variant will be able to spread in schools. 

“The kids can spread it the same. That’s a reservoir for spreading it in the communities and still having it circulate,” Dr. Vento told Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News on KSL NewsRadio.

Delta variant more transmissible 

Vento says someone infected with the original Wuhan strain of COVID-19 might spread it to an average of two people. With this new variant, it’s considerably more. 

“If I get the delta strain, I might give it to seven, eight, or nine other people,” said Vento. 

The virus has mutated and become more resilient. Vento said it now binds better to the cells inside our noses and creates a higher viral load. That increased virus count can lead to more severe illness in some patients. 

Does the vaccine work? 

Absolutely, Vento said.

He said the data showing fully vaccinated people spreading the virus to non-vaccinated people came from one large outbreak in Massachusetts. According to Vento, researchers found people who had received the shot spread the virus just as easily as those who had not, but the immunized population fared much better.

“The vaccines work extremely well against, still high-90s percent, against becoming severely ill, hospitalized, going on a ventilator, or dying,” Vento said. 

What about masks? 

Vento believes masks will be critical until more people can get vaccinated. He understands why so many are less than thrilled about the idea of putting them back on. 

“We want so badly to get back to normal, I certainly do as well, but I think we have to reset our brains to understand that this virus has learned to mutate because we didn’t shut it down,” said Vento. 

Meanwhile, school districts are awaiting guidance from the state on how to proceed with back-to-school plans. 

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