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Your Healthy Family: Assessing your risk to the delta variant and the latest masking guidance from the CDC

Posted at 4:24 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 18:24:48-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Following up on our last story (READ HERE) about how much more contagious COVID-19 delta variant is, with the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) now recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors - what are the best ways to assess your risk from the delta variant so you can make the best decision for you and those around you?

Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth, says one thing that hasn't changed recently about COVID-19 recommendations is that if you are not vaccinated, you should be masking up indoors and outdoors when you are in close proximity to others. “If you are unvaccinated you are open territory for the spread of this infection and its complications. So, absolutely that was the intent, and I'm not sure that nuance was fully appreciated by all.”

Over the last month in El Paso County, cases of COVID have been on the rise, as are hospitalizations, and Dr. Barron says what she is seeing firsthand is that, “94% to 95% of the individuals being hospitalized are unvaccinated. When you look at the age range, there is a spectrum. They tend to run a little bit on the older side, but there are some younger people who are getting pretty sick and end up in the intensive care unit. Some 20-year-olds and some people in their 30s and 40s and again are unvaccinated. Those who are vaccinated who are being hospitalized (with breakthrough cases) are typically individuals that are older or have underlying things that affect their immune system, so they are transplant or cancer patients or are on medications that suppress the immune system.”

Over the last month we, while we continue to see deaths from COVID-19, we have not seen a spike in Colorado or El Paso County.

Because of the lag time between hospitalizations and death it's also too early to say if the delta variant of COVID-19 is more deadly than the alpha variant or original strain of the virus.

Either way, Dr. Barron says the best way to protect you and those around you, family, loved ones, and others, remains getting a vaccine. “If you're fully vaccinated, the likelihood of you getting sick and infected with COVID-19 is extraordinarily low - but it's not zero. There are breakthrough infections. They are very mild, and that's the good news.” Dr. Barron adds there is more good news, and some bad. “You’re unlikely to be hospitalized but the bad news is the symptoms can look like anything: stuffy or runny nose, headache, sore throat, things that we would normally associate with a summer cold or all the lovely (wildfire) smoke that’s being blown through our area because of the fires.”

If you are vaccinated, what about the new mask recommendations from the CDC? Dr. Barron says, “I think it's one of those questions that you really have to take into consideration for yourself and what makes sense for you, who you live with and who you are around.”

Dr. Barron says she is vaccinated but hasn’t stopped masking up in public or crowded settings. “I have been masking at grocery stores and other places where I am concerned. It’s not that I think I'm going to get sick, I just don't want to take the chance that I can spread it (COVID-19) to a patient.”

While it makes good sense that it’s a doctor’s obligation to watch out for their patients, what about the rest of us? Dr. Barron says there are some things to consider if you’re vaccinated when it comes to when you should think about masking up. “If you’re living in a mixed household where some people are vaccinated, some are not, because of their age or other reasons then there is a potential risk. If you’re fully vaccinated the likelihood of you getting infected with COVID-19 is extraordinarily low - but it’s not zero. There are breakthrough infections. In those instances if you have symptoms and there is that potential risk of transmitting COVID to somebody else that is vulnerable, a mask makes sense. I tell people ``It's all about figuring out what your individual risk is and where you need to be in the safety zone.'”

Dr. Barron also says, “If you live alone and you're healthy, you can probably still do what you're doing even in crowded settings.”

Dr. Barron adds that she believes the latest mask recommendations from the CDC and all of the public health guidelines about getting vaccinated are not about trying to control anyone's life, but to broadly offer recommendations that offer the most protection from COVID-19 and the delta variant.

“Vaccines are the best layer of protection for you, your family and the community at large and are truly the way to help end this pandemic. Wearing a mask is another layer of protection that regardless of your stance on the vaccine, whether you have it or not, is another layer of protection. It's less likely that you will become infected and then potentially serve as a spreader. Also, washing your hands and limiting how many events you go to that have huge numbers of people - all of this becomes a math game. It's like being in your car and you have your safety belt, you have airbags, you follow the speed limit - all of those are safety measures that can keep you safe, but they do not guarantee that you will not be in an accident or have an injury, they just diminish all of that potential risk.”

For more information from Dr. Barron about weighing your risks and behaviors in light of the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, we’ll have that in our next story and you can read this article [uchealth.org] featuring Dr. Barron in UCHealth Today on-line. (https://www.uchealth.org/today/the-covid-19-delta-variant-and-masks-should-you-wear-a-mask-again/ [uchealth.org])

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