COVID-19 spread continues fueled by Delta Variant

Scenes reminiscent of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic have again crept their way back into the daily lives of many Americans. On Sep. 5 alone 161,327 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States according to data collected by the New York Times. On that same day, there were 1,560 deaths across the country.

The recent rise in COVID cases comes after recent pushes from the Biden administration and many other government officials to increase vaccination rates. The CDC estimates that 72.2% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson Vaccine.

The Delta Variant is behind the newest influx of cases across the country. First identified in India in Dec. 2020 the variant quickly spread to Great Britain where it became the dominant strain by March 2021. On Jul. 27 the Delta variant officially became the dominant strain in the United States, accounting for 51% of all new infections in the country.

According to the CDC, the Delta Variant is extremely dangerous as it is two times as infectious as the original COVID-19 Alpha Variant, as well as causing more severe illness.

While the main concern about Delta’s spread remains among those who are unvaccinated. Increasingly more people who are vaccinated are contracting breakthrough infections—infections that occur when someone who has received fully vaccinated status tests positive for COVID-19.

On Aug. 7, the United States hit the 40 million known infections mark according to the New York Times. That means that a little over 12% of the entire United States population has contracted COVID-19 over the past year and a half.

Because of the recent uptick in cases among both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the CDC reversed its previous statement released in May that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in public settings indoors or outdoors.

Their newest recommendations state that all people regardless of vaccination status should wear masks while indoors. Their stance on outdoor masking has remained unchanged as they only recommend masking up for those who still remain unvaccinated.

“I feel comfortable on campus,” said Claire Neeb (’25), “the mask mandate is a good thing if it keeps people on campus.”

Alma College has also changed its policies over the course of the summer to better reflect the changing trajectory of the pandemic. In May, Alma allowed students to go without masks in outdoor spaces and that rule has remained in place since its initial implementation. Additionally, the rules were changed over the summer to allow all students regardless of vaccination status to remain maskless both indoors and outdoors.

Students were informed two weeks before returning to campus that they would once again be required to wear masks in the academic buildings and public spaces within residence halls.

“Masks also help prevent other diseases such as the flu, common cold, and other illnesses. If the mandate is lifted for people who are vaccinated… then it might encourage people to go out and get the vaccine,” said Neeb.

Moving forward, the Alma College administration hopes to reevaluate the need for masking on campus based on the number of COVID cases among students. If cases remain low the campus will remain in Phase 1, in accordance with the Plaid Protects phased approach to COVID-19 Policies.

Despite the optimism expressed by Alma College many experts warn the United States is not out of the woods yet. Experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, have come out and expressed concern about the stagnation of vaccination among rural communities that are seeing the most spread of COVID-19.

A top concern expressed by Dr. Fauci has been the rise in cases among children 12 years old and younger. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22.4% of COVID-19 cases within the last week have been among children. The trend is especially alarming as it comes at a time when children are returning to school and children under the age of 12 are not authorized to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

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