The Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing widespread worry in the dental profession. Amber Auger, MPH, RDH, stresses the importance of vaccination and protocols for keeping patients and offices safe.

As of this writing (August 2021), the Delta variant is sweeping the country, leaving us with active cases of COVID-19 at levels that we have not seen since February 2020. The United States is experiencing more than 100,000 new cases of the coronavirus every day.1 According to the New York Times database, recent death rates have doubled, with a current average of 516 deaths per day. Despite widespread vaccination efforts, only half of the US population is fully vaccinated. As dental professionals, we must remain vigilant in our compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

The current predominant strain

The Delta variant was identified in December 2020 and became the predominant strain of the virus in India and Great Britain. By July 2021, more than 80% of US cases have been confirmed as the Delta strain. The CDC confirmed a cluster of at least 470 cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts, after the July 4 weekend. Yale epidemiologist F. Perry Wilson stated, “It’s quite dramatic how the growth rate will change.” He confirmed that the Delta variant is spreading 50% faster than the Alpha strain and is 50% more contagious than the original strain of SARs-CoV-2.2 It’s estimated that the average COVID-19 cases would infect 2.5 people, whereas the Delta strain is 3.5 to 4 or more.

The highest risk population

Those who haven’t been vaccinated are at the highest risk of contracting Delta. The lowest rate of vaccinated people is in the Appalachian states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia. The Delta strain is more likely to be contracted by children and adults under the age of 50.

Will the vaccinated need a booster shot?

Those who have been vaccinated have a significantly lower risk of contracting Delta. Many experts report that it is too soon to determine if a booster vaccination will be needed to protect against Delta. Pfizer and Moderna are working on boosters, yet they have not been FDA authorized. A third shot may be required for the two mRNA vaccines for those over 65 and with compromised immune systems. Johnson & Johnson also has reported that its vaccine is effective against Delta; however, according to Yale Medicine, there are studies yet to be published that show the vaccine is less effective against the Delta variant.2

Patient and dental team protocols

The CDC recommends that patients wear face coverings while in dental facilities and remove them only when receiving treatment. It continues to advise social distancing to prevent transmitting the virus among potentially asymptomatic patients.For health-care workers (including dental professionals), the CDC has not changed its previous recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19: surgical masks, eye protection, face shield, gown, protective clothing, and gloves. Additionally, “the CDC advises using an N95 respirator or a respirator that offers an equivalent or higher level of protection such as other disposable filtering facepiece respirators, powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), or elastomeric respirators.”3

Every virus evolves over time to continue to spread and replicate; without a proper host, it cannot achieve this. While no one can know precisely how Delta will play out—including at dental offices—we must not become complacent with our safety measures; it’s with them that we can reduce transmission of disease throughout the world. It is crucial that we remain compliant with the CDC recommendations to protect ourselves, our patients, and our communities to prevent the spread of the disease-causing pathogens, including COVID-19 and its variant strains.

Source: Amber Auger, MPH, RDH

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