The best ways for seniors to protect themselves against the Delta variant
As a group, the senior population in King County has done the right thing to safely manage their risk during the COVID-19 pandemic – masking up, taking special precautions if they have underlying medical conditions, and getting vaccinated.
With news of the widely available vaccine early this year, we had all anticipated a gradual return to our pre-COVID lives.
Now, just as we’ve started feeling better about the prospects, we’ve learned that the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is causing a spike in cases across the country and here at home.
Ironically, the symbol for Delta (Δ) means change in math and physics. We’re definitely in the midst of change. Again.
It’s time to resume our vigilance. This means a little extra effort to protect ourselves and our loved ones – even if we’re fully vaccinated.
Fortunately, we already know the drill. We’re good at this. We managed to take care of business in record time 18 months ago when COVID first entered our midst. We stayed home, stocked our pantries, masked up, and paid close attention to the health experts.
As it currently stands, we’re not facing closures and shutdowns. We’re smarter now than we were at the beginning – we know for a certainty that the virus is airborne and transmitted through droplets generated by sneezes and coughs. And we know that wearing masks is an effective way to avoid getting infected.
We can take this in stride. Doing the minimum – wearing masks and practicing social distancing in public indoor settings – will go a long way to drive down the spread of the virus.
How concerned should seniors be about the rise in COVID cases?
We should be concerned enough to act responsibly.
This means we need to exercise caution. It’s reported that the Delta variant is two times more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 strains. Delta was responsible for more than 80% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in July, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It’s important to remember that the vaccine is doing its job and offers protection against the Delta variant. For those very few cases where vaccinated people are re-infected, the vaccine does prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
Breakthrough infections are considered to be rare – currently affecting approximately 0.01% of the vaccinated population. But that number still amounts to a million and a half people across the country, so there is some risk.
How can we turn concern into responsible action?
Stay informed about the Delta variant
There’s plenty of news coverage about rising case numbers, and it’s important to get information you can rely on.
One way to find your way through somewhat confusing information is to focus on local news and government agency sources. The spread of the virus, vaccination rates, and information about safety measures vary a great deal depending on which area of the country you look at. While it’s interesting to hear what’s going on in other parts of the U.S., plan to educate yourself first and foremost about what’s happening at home.
Here in King County virus transmission rates are climbing as they are throughout the country, although we are faring better than many other areas in this pandemic. This is due in part to forward-thinking leadership and our depth of research facilities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is well-regarded as a hub for improving population health throughout the world.
We’re also fortunate to have King County Health Department COVID-19 Information and Resources for up-to-date guidance on restrictions, safe practices, and permanent testing center locations, including ADA-accessible sites.
However, right now, in early August 2021, King County’s level of COVID transmission is listed on the CDC website as substantial. For fully vaccinated individuals, the guidelines are as follows – quoted directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic.
To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.”
This guidance corresponds to what our King County authorities suggest.
Know how to protect yourself and loved ones against infection
“Hope is not a strategy.” Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande
You can take action to stay safe. Here are some tools:
- Always have a mask available, along with one or two clean spares. You may encounter a friend or family member who’s forgotten theirs.
- If you’re spending time indoors with people who aren’t part of your household, limit your exposure time or ask everyone to mask up.
- Do you know anyone who’s unvaccinated? Encourage them to take the life-saving measure of vaccination.
- Assess your personal risk and take extra precautionary measures if necessary. Here are two online tools to get you started. 19 and Me and COVID-19 Mortality Risk Calculator. Both provide a basic risk assessment and use your zip code for up-to-date information. (Read the disclaimers – neither site retains your information, and neither claims to provide diagnostic information.)
Learn ways to deal with uncertainty
Even though we’re smarter than we were at COVID-19’s onset, there are still unknowns. When we face uncertainty, we may find ourselves getting anxious. Extra stress and anxiety are health concerns, so learn about ways to reduce them.
While staying informed is one healthy approach, there are some other steps to take to cut down on uncertainty and worry.
Acknowledge that uncertainty is a part of normal life. We routinely take some uncertainty for granted and adjust our behavior to accommodate it – like leaving early for an appointment when we don’t know how heavy the traffic will be. Think about how uncertainty makes you feel and ask yourself whether your concerns make you feel better or worse. Are they helpful to your mental state or harmful?
Focus on what’s happening in your life on a day-to-day basis. Spend less time thinking about what might happen in your future. This isn’t avoiding your future situation, but rather putting more energy into taking one day at a time.
Give yourself credit for what you’re doing well. You’re vaccinated, you’re wearing a mask when you’re in public spaces, and you’re emphasizing your daily good health practices.
Think about the things you’re able to control, like what you’re already doing well. Then think about what you cannot control – your neighbor’s refusal to get vaccinated or unmasked employees at your grocery store – and take steps to avoid those situations. Reduce the uncertainty.
Don’t go out of your comfort zone. If it makes you feel uneasy to attend a celebration or go to the grocery store, trust your instincts and stay away.
Talk to friends, family, and experts (like your healthcare provider) you trust. Exchanging information and ideas about managing these challenging times can give you a boost.
For thoughts on how resilience can be an effective antidote to uncertainty, read our recent SeaCare blog.
The staff at SeaCare stays informed about the latest COVID-19 developments and is dedicated to practicing recommended safety guidelines. We’re happy to tell you why now, more than ever, in-home care for your loved ones means providing them with the highest quality support available.
Katie Wright writes about aging and senior wellness from Bellingham, WA. You can read more about her here.
If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.