Hopeful News on Delta

The Delta variant is more contagious. It does not appear to be more severe.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

There are two basic questions to ask about any variant of the Covid-19 virus: Is it more contagious than earlier versions of the virus? And is it more severe?

When a variant is more contagious, it leads to a rise in the number of infections, especially among the unvaccinated. When a variant is more severe, it causes worse symptoms for the average person who gets the virus and leads to a greater percentage of cases that result in hospitalization or death.

It is easy to confuse these two different concepts when a variant — like Delta — begins spreading. If the variant is more contagious, it often appears to be more severe as well because the increase in caseloads leads to an increase in the raw number of hospitalizations and deaths, as Dr. Robert Wachter of the University of California, San Francisco, explained to me.

In response, journalists and some experts talk about the new variant being “worse,” “riskier” or “more dangerous” — broad concepts that muddy the difference between contagiousness and severity. “Part of the problem is imprecision in language,” Dr. Rebecca Wurtz, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota, said.

The difference between the two concepts is important. If a new variant is not actually more severe, it doesn’t present a greater threat to a typical person who contracts Covid. Vaccinated people would remain protected. For children too young to be vaccinated, serious Covid symptoms would still be exceedingly rare — rarer than many other everyday risks, like riding in a car — and still concentrated among children with other health problems.

After the Alpha variant began spreading late last year, many people assumed that it was both more contagious and more severe. The data soon told a different story, though: Alpha seems to be only more contagious.

Now the story may be repeating itself with Delta. It is significantly more contagious than even Alpha by almost every measure. It does not appear to be more severe, based on the data available so far.

‘A sneaky opportunist’

That data remains messy, and it could change. You can find narrow statistics that point in any direction, variously suggesting that Delta is more severe, similarly severe or less severe than earlier versions of the virus. But the bulk of the evidence indicates no meaningful change.

“As far as anyone can tell, Delta isn’t more dangerous in the sense that it causes worse disease,” Wurtz told me. “It’s a sneaky opportunist, not a mayhem man.”

Janet Baseman, a University of Washington epidemiologist, said: “I have not seen compelling evidence that the Delta variant is more severe.” Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told me, “This sense of greater disease severity is more anecdotal than driven by actual data.” Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research said, “I don’t think it makes kids sicker.”

Dr. Aaron Richterman of the University of Pennsylvania said that he did not think Delta required vaccinated parents to behave differently than they did a few weeks ago. Richterman has young children himself, and his family has not changed its behavior, he said.

England’s message

A good way to understand Delta is to look to England, where the variant has been circulating widely since May, longer than in the U.S.

If Delta were more severe than earlier versions of the virus, the percentage of cases leading to hospitalization or death should be rising. They’re not, as you can see in these two charts:

Image

Credit…By The New York Times | Source: Public Health England

The average severity of Covid declined in the spring, thanks to England’s mass vaccination program. (The vaccines reduce severe Covid cases even more sharply than total cases.) Since the spring, severity has remained in the same tight range. The lines on those charts would probably have started rising in May or June if Delta were more severe.

In many ways, this picture should not be surprising. It is highly unusual for a virus variant to be both more contagious and more severe.

Huge noise, less signal

Image

A passenger from Colombia receiving a vaccine at Miami International Airport last month.Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Delta, of course, is still a problem.

For unvaccinated older adults, Covid does not need to be additionally severe to be a mortal threat. The increased contagiousness of Delta has led to Covid surges across much of the globe, putting those unvaccinated adults at greater risk of contracting it.

As a result, vaccination has become even more important than it already was. In the U.S., regions with greater vaccination skepticism — which tend to be politically conservative areas — are now suffering larger outbreaks. In many other countries, where people have often not had the opportunity to be vaccinated, cases are also surging. Still, the global mass vaccination program is proceeding with agonizing slowness.

As has often been the case with Covid, the story is not a simple one. Delta is a menacing development in some places and may make little difference in others. “Delta is creating a huge amount of noise” in the U.S., Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told The Times, “but I don’t think that it’s right to be ringing a huge alarm bell.”

More virus news:

Delta is widening the gulf between what Dr. Anthony Fauci has called the “two Americas” — vaccinated and not.

The pop star Olivia Rodrigo visited the White House to urge young Americans to get vaccinated.

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose nearly 30 percent last year, as the pandemic disrupted treatment and increased isolation.

THE LATEST NEWS

Climate

Image

An open-pit coal mine in Poland.Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Europe’s plan to move away from fossil fuels includes tariffs on countries with looser climate rules, potentially setting off trade disputes with the U.S. and China.

Europe’s carbon border tax would be the first of its kind. Here’s how it works.

The White House welcomed the idea. Democrats in Congress intend to include a similar proposal in their $3.5 trillion budget plan.

International

Image

Families displaced by recent fighting in Afghanistan.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“When it starts, it’s hell”: Nightly battles with the Taliban have made life miserable in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s president met to plot the killing, officials said. Participants said they were planning a new government for after his resignation.

Using footage captured by Palestinians in Gaza, The Times’s video team made a documentary on the 11-day war with Israel this spring.

Other Big Stories

The Cleveland Clinic and Mount Sinai said they would not administer the new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm.

The F.B.I. mishandled its investigation into Larry Nassar, letting the former gymnastics doctor continue to abuse victims, a watchdog found.

“Farther than we’ve ever imagined we could go”: Researchers have given a paralyzed man his speech back by decoding signals between his brain and mouth.

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals. The series is tied 2-2.

Opinions

“One by one, my friends were sent to the camps,” Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur poet who fled Chinese government persecution in 2017, writes in The Atlantic.

The filmmaker James Robinson has eye conditions that affect his vision. He calls it “whale eyes” — and he created experiments to show his family how he sees the world.

The pandemic killed the five-day workweek, Vox’s Anna North argues.

MORNING READS

Unofficial biopic: Let’s talk about the crazy Celine Dion movie at Cannes.

“Swan Dive”: Step inside ballet culture with a “rogue ballerina.”

Well rested: Awake at 3 a.m.? Here’s how to go back to sleep.

Advice from Wirecutter: Don’t buy a fancy foot spa.

Lives Lived: Bernette Ford, an author and editor, pushed to make children’s books more diverse. She died at 70.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Image

Nazar Firman playing for his hometown, Lviv, Ukraine.Credit…Misha Friedman for The New York Times

The dark side of chess

“Grandmaster” is the highest title a chess player can achieve — one that even the brightest stars take years to earn. Players must get a high rating by playing well in tournaments and by attaining a series of game benchmarks, called norms, at qualified events.

Since 1950, nearly 2,000 players have become grandmasters. But only the top 30 players can create a sustainable career from chess. So some young players — and their often-obsessive parents — are setting their sights on a new goal: the title of the youngest grandmaster.

Being the youngest grandmaster in history is “a door to global acclaim and corporate sponsorships and invitations to the biggest tournaments,” Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman write in The Times.

But getting that title may involve more than winning. “It is an open secret in chess that many players cut side deals with tournament organizers and other top competitors that help them achieve norms they might have struggled to get,” Nechepurenko and Friedman write.

“If I went to the effort, I think I could get my dog a grandmaster’s title,” said Nigel Short, the vice president of the governing body for chess. Read about the world of “norm factories,” payoffs, match fixing and more. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

Image

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food stylist: Sue Li. Prop stylist: Nicole Louie.

Try a vegetarian alternative to chicken nuggets: Crispy tofu with sweet-and-sour sauce.

Q. & A.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn nearly blew up his career in 2018. Back with a new blockbuster, he talks about the Twitter controversy that got him temporarily fired.

What to Read

“Elena Knows,” by Claudia Pineiro, follows a woman with Parkinson’s on a quest across Buenos Aires.

Late Night

The hosts joked about books that cover Donald Trump’s presidency. (Here’s an excerpt in The Washington Post of “I Alone Can Fix It” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.)

Now Time to Play

Image

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were detoxified and toxified. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Absolutely furious (five letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The Times had a special visitor this week:

Image

Here’s today’s print front page.

The Daily” is about Cuba. On the Modern Love podcast, the upside of divorce.

Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Leave a Reply