Photo of a white surgical face mask against a pink backdrop with a yellow square in front of the mask with black text that reads "Coronavirus COVID-19 Delta variant."

Delta Variant Poses New Questions About COVID Risk

by Sally James

From time to time the Emerald hopes to help people navigate the complicated landscape of the pandemic. Below we have compiled some answers to some pressing questions about the new COVID-19 Delta variant. 

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR last week, “We are dealing with a different virus now.” It has different capabilities and can be transmitted from person to person more easily. An internal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called the new variant as contagious as chickenpox.

Here in Washington State, test positivity rates are increasing and hospitalizations for COVID-19 are on the rise. According to the state Department of Health, the Delta variant now comprises 76% of COVID-19 cases.

Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., says, “If there was ever a time to get vaccinated, it is now in the race against this variant.”

Here are some questions and answers to help you make decisions for your family: 

Can I get the Delta variant disease if I’m vaccinated?

Yes, it’s possible for a person who has received any of the three vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson — to still become infected with the COVID-19 Delta variant of the virus. While the vaccines are proven to be quite effective against infection, it is still possible to contract the COVID-19 Delta variant after being fully vaccinated. The vaccines train your body’s immune system to recognize and to prepare to fight the novel coronavirus if you should encounter it. Some people have stronger immunity than others. Delta is one mutation or variant of the original virus, which began circulating in January 2020. Delta first appeared in March of this year and now is the dominant strain, making up 83% of new infections in the U.S.

All of the COVID-19 vaccines have proven very effective at limiting symptoms and reducing serious illness that might otherwise require hospitalization.

New research coming from scientists shows that when vaccinated people do become infected by Delta, they carry more virus around in their bodies that they could pass to others. They may not have symptoms, but their nose, mouth, or throat may have transmissible virus in it. 

For this reason, the CDC is recommending that all people (vaccinated or not) wear face masks in indoor spaces in parts of the country where there is high risk of catching the Delta variant.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned about another COVID-19 surge, driven by the Delta variant. She said, “We know that the Delta variant … is currently surging in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.”

How dangerous is the Delta variant form of COVID-19 for different age groups?

The Delta variant is most risky for people who are not vaccinated, regardless of age. But because most people over 65 have already been vaccinated in Washington State, the virus is spreading most rapidly in younger age groups. Scientists have learned that the Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than earlier variants. This means it is easier to catch. 

How dangerous is the Delta variant for my children under 12?

Children can get COVID-19, but they generally don’t get as sick as adults who catch it. All children are not the same, and children with a compromised immune system, a current illness, or pre-existing condition are more at risk than healthier children. It is important to pay attention if your child gets a fever or a cough or has been exposed to a person with COVID-19. More information on what to look for can be found on the COVID Families & Children page at the CDC. 

Do I need to wear a mask to the grocery store, on the bus, or at a Mariners’ game?

The state of Washington health officer, Scott Lindquist, recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor spaces. You may protect others, as well as yourself, by wearing a mask. If you wear a mask, you are making it less likely that you could transmit the virus to someone else. If you are outdoors at a Mariners’ game, you may spend some time in an indoor space, such as an elevator or snack counter. When you are in a confined space, the mask helps protect you. Metro is also asking all bus passengers to wear masks

Is my risk different depending on where I live or work in the Seattle area?

Yes. There are different parts of the region with different vaccination rates. You are more at risk in a workplace or a neighborhood where the majority of people around you are unvaccinated. Here is a map for King County of zip codes and their rate of vaccination. This information is updated often. At the time of publication, the zip code of Enumclaw, or 98022, was only 58.5% vaccinated. Renton’s zip code of 98057 was 70.1% vaccinated. Other King County zip codes show close to 80% vaccinated. Each workplace is its own small system. Not all workers know the status of their fellow workers. 

I am an essential worker and was vaccinated in February. How do I know whether my workplace is safe? Do I need a mask at my workplace? Can I bring COVID-19 home to my 8-year-old daughter? 

As explained above, you can, hypothetically, bring the Delta variant virus home to your child or others in your household. Wearing a mask at work greatly reduces that risk. Good ventilation at your workplace can also help limit the spread of the virus. If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, or hear about someone at work who has COVID-19, get tested immediately. Here is information on free testing in King County.

I walk down Rainier Avenue and pass different businesses with different mask directives. What does the CDC actually recommend?

The CDC has recommended that all people, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors in places where the Delta variant of the virus is spreading. Because this is just a recommendation, it is up to every business owner to meet state and local requirements and decide for themselves on what signs to post. The health officers of King, Pierce, Snohomish, and several other counties have joined together to recommend masking indoors for everyone. See this link for details. These are recommendations, not laws or requirements. It can be confusing for customers and business owners to know exactly what to do.

How likely is it that we’ll go back to restrictions or a lockdown in the fall?

Virologist Helen Chu, M.D., M.P.H., told The Seattle Times that predictions are very hard to make, and the pandemic is not going away. From day to day, there are multiple situations that could lead to change in federal, state, or local policy. For example, if local hospitals in Seattle grow crowded with patients suffering from COVID-19, it could trigger new restrictions. 

What will happen with Seattle schools in the fall? Will my child have to wear a mask or be vaccinated? What will schools do if some people are vaccinated and some aren’t?

At this point, your children will need to wear masks at school. Seattle Public Schools have a page on their website about COVID-19 and it shows masking for all students and staff is planned. The next few weeks of summer will be critical, and the increasing spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 could prompt changes from state, local, or federal authorities. 

If you have other COVID-19 questions, we’d love to hear from you and will continue to update the local health guidance as it changes. Send your questions to

Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.

📸 Featured image is attributed to Jernej Furman (under a Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 license).

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