New evidence showing the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be more dangerous than other versions has prompted U.S. health officials to consider changing advice on how the nation fights the coronavirus, internal documents show.
Recommending masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health workers are among measures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering, according to internal documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The documents appear to be talking points for CDC staff to use in explaining the dangers of the delta variant and “breakthrough″ infections that can occur after vaccination. Noted under communications: “Acknowledge the war has changed.”
In recommending that vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in virus hot spots, the CDC this week said that new evidence shows that breakthrough infections may be as transmissible as those in unvaccinated people. They cited a large recent outbreak among vaccinated individuals in the Cape Cod town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, among others, for the change.
As the documents note, COVID-19 vaccines are still highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. The CDC has always expected some breakthrough infections but has struggled with how to explain them to the public.
The documents point out that the delta variant, first detected in India, causes infections that are more contagious than the common cold, flu, smallpox and Ebola virus, and is as infectious as highly contagious chickenpox.
The internal documents also cite studies from Canada, Singapore and Scotland showing that the delta variant may pose a greater risk for hospitalization, intensive care treatment and death than the alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom.
Since January, people who got infected after vaccination make up an increasing portion of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths among COVID-19 patients, according to the documents. That trend coincides with the spread of the delta variant.
But the CDC emphasizes that breakthrough infections are still uncommon.
A Southwest Florida man has spent eight months in the hospital battling COVID, and his wife spoke with WINK News, saying she never wants anyone to experience what her husband is still going through.
“The doctors were telling me that he wasn’t going to make it,” said Erica Guerrero.
Her husband was in a coma and several of his organs failed.
“He still cannot walk but they saved most of his feet because they said before they were going to amputate from below the knee. But they were able to, the podiatrist was able to save most of it.”
Necrosis set in and he had parts of his feet and hands amputated.
“I don’t want my husband to go through it again because … he barely survived the first hit.”
Eventually, he woke from his coma and he’s now back home.
“Based on what the doctors were saying, they were very upfront and blunt about it, that he wasn’t going to make it… because of the multiple organ failure. But you know, we were just there. We visited him. It was such a miracle.”
Because Erica is still working, she worries about bringing the virus home, saying she isn’t sure if her husband would survive another battle with the virus.
“I would never wish this for anyone… for anyone to go through the experience.”
Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health, said just two months ago, the hospital system was treating 29 COVID patients. Today, they’re treating more than eight times that many.
“It’s estimated that it (delta) spreads two to three times faster and as aggressively as the original alpha variant,” he said.
Erica knows that could mean other families feel the pain her family is still experiencing.
“Just practice the precautionary measures and follow CDC guidelines. I think that’s the best thing we can do for now,” she said.
WINK News hopes to speak with Erica’s husband Saturday. He wants to share his story of what he has gone through to help encourage others to take precautions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.