In Canada, the Covid-19 Delta variant continues to spread across the country. It’s high reproducibility rate, twice that of previous variants, means that it quickly became the dominant strain around the world. Unfortunately, cases are rising even as vaccination rates remain high. Right as some businesses were beginning to roll out their return to office plans, it appears that limited numbers of people in close, confined spaces may be the safer option. Countries that had almost zero covid restrictions in place are now returning to masking indoors and limiting group sizes for dining.
In this blog, we’ll explain what the delta variant means for your health, your employees, and your business.
Is the Delta Variant More Transmissible?
The delta variant is highly transmissible. Some estimates say it could be between 40-60% more infectious than the Alpha variant (also known as B117). Indeed, Delta is so infectious that, at least in the UK, it appears to have completely outcompeted all other variants.
Fortunately, the higher transmissibility does not seem to translate to a more dangerous strain. Though symptoms may be slightly different than previous variants (cough and loss of smell are less common), the symptoms do not appear to be more severe.
Though it is too early to say one way or the other if the delta variant is more dangerous, we do know that the unvaccinated individuals are much more at risk than the vaccinated. One study found that unvaccinated people are three times more likely to catch the variant than those who had both doses of a vaccine.
Are Vaccines Effective?
As we mentioned in our previous blog about Covid vaccines, there are multiple ways to measure a vaccine's effectiveness. One is how well it stops transmission of the virus. Another is its ability to prevent against symptomatic cases. And finally, how well it defends against severe illness and death.
With the delta variant, Covid vaccines appear marginally effective against transmission, marginally effective against symptomatic cases, and highly effective against severe illness and death.
What we have seen in places where the Delta variant is most prominent, such as the UK, is that as cases have become decoupled from hospitalizations and deaths. In previous ‘waves’ of covid, there was a linear connection between cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Fortunately, with a highly vaccinated population, cases may rise but hospitals will remain well under maximum capacity.
When countries first rolled out their Covid response plan in the first quarter of 2020, the goal was to reduce the strain on hospitals, ensuring those who needed critical care got it and that medical staff weren’t pushed to their physical and mental limits. Viewed in that light, the vaccines remain highly effective. Fully vaccinated individuals are highly protected against severe illness and hospitals have the capacity to help those in critical condition.
However, it does mean that vaccinated individuals may get symptomatic cases of Covid, which was extremely rare with other variants. According to studies conducted by Pfizer, a booster vaccine could be highly effective at preventing transmission of the delta variant. However the World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster shots until the end of September, when more of the global population has been vaccinated.
How Can I Keep My Employees Safe?
Due to the highly transmissible nature of the delta variant, there’s not a whole lot employers can do to guarantee their employees don’t catch covid. Masks help to an extent and so does social distancing. However, many open concept offices or places with frequent interaction with the public are going to struggle to prevent the virus’ spread.
From an employer’s point of view, the best thing you can do is encourage employees to get vaccinated. Although you may not be able to mandate vaccination in your workplace, you can provide educational materials to help the vaccine hesitant and allow employees to take time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects they may experience.
At times during this pandemic, it has felt like for every step forward, we’ve taken two steps back. Right as offices, restaurants and bars begin opening up, a new variant causes rising cases. Still, progress is being made. Hospitalizations remain low and death even lower.
With more of the population getting vaccinated, the world is slowly beginning to reopen again. A third booster vaccine offers further protection against new strains. As an employer, it’s important to listen to the concerns of your employees. Are they worried about infecting loved ones? Do they have concerns about taking public transit? Are they hesitant about vaccines? Hear what they have to say and work with them to find the best path forward.
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