Chicago TribuneChicago feels refreshingly alive again. Restaurants across the city — the ones that managed to stay open — bustle with diners. Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field are once more inviting full capacity. Beaches, the lakefront path, city parks — specked with Chicagoans. That sense of normalcy the city craved for over a year — Chicago can feel it. Time to pop the champagne?
Hold on. The delta variant is derailing party plans.
One lesson we’ve learned during the pandemic is the coronavirus’s capacity to mutate. Variants have emerged — gamma from Brazil, alpha from the U.K., and now, delta from India — that have caused new outbreaks in parts of the world and forced governments to reimpose lockdowns. In Australia, Sydney issued a two-week stay-at-home order over concern about the delta variant. Delta also prompted Israel to reimpose its mask requirement.
In the U.S., delta now accounts for half of all new cases in as many as 10 states, including Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, and for more than 20% of all new coronavirus infections in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Illinois, cases attributed to the delta variant remain low — just 84 as of Sunday. However, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said this week that Illinoisans can expect delta to dominate cases statewide by the fall.
Delta’s especially concerning because it spreads faster than other variants. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, calls delta “the most transmissible” variant as of yet. And, the CDC says the delta variant can result in “more severe disease.”
As daunting as delta is, the best firewall we can put up is obvious. Vaccinations are the biggest reason why Illinois’ seven-day rolling average positivity rate is now under 1%. On Wednesday, Illinois had 259 COVID-19 cases, compared with a peak of 17,608 last November. And yet, despite that progress, more than half of Illinoisans have yet to be fully vaccinated. The state’s daily average for vaccinations has dipped from more than 100,000 a day in the sprint to the current seven-day rolling average of 43,219 vaccines administered.
“The delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said at a recent White House briefing on the virus. “Good news: Our vaccines are effective against the delta variant. … We have the tools. So let’s use them, and crush the outbreak.”
Younger Americans, those in their late teens and early 20s, have been particularly reluctant to get vaccinated. Reasons vary from strong ideological opposition to vaccines to indifference about the need to get them. The Biden administration says it will redouble efforts to get younger Americans vaccinated.
In the meantime, everyone within earshot of a Gen Z individual — parent, grandparent, sibling, neighbor — should drive home the message. Want everything as it was? Pine for a time when masks stay in drawers? Want to turn back the threat of the delta variant? Get vaccinated. It’s free, it’s easy and it’s the best and only way to put the pandemic in our collective rearview mirror.