Health Care

COVID-19 delta variant FAQ

We answer all your questions, from should I keep wearing a mask if I’m vaccinated to why are vaccinated people contracting the coronavirus?

COVID-19 vaccination center at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo

COVID-19 vaccination center at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it can be tough to keep track of everything and the spread of the delta variant raises a lot of new questions.

Here are the answers to some of the most significant COVID-19 vaccine and delta variant questions, based on insights from experts and other reliable publications, to help make things a little less confusing.

How concerned should I be about the new delta variant? Will there be another COVID-19 outbreak?

The delta variant, which was first detected in India in December, has been spreading across the globe at an alarming rate. While it’s still unclear if this variant is more deadly than others, epidemiologists have found that it is far more contagious.

Unvaccinated people are at a much higher risk of contracting the virus and becoming severely ill, though vaccinated people have also become infected. Now, health officials in New York City and state are ramping up their efforts to get people vaccinated to avoid another severe outbreak.

“If you are immunocompromised, if you are older, or you kind of have a preexisting condition that makes you vulnerable to the risks associated with (the) COVID-19 virus to begin with, whether you're vaccinated or not, you should be more conscientious about delta because it is more transmissible,” Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, told City & State. “And if you are not vaccinated, you should be concerned because the unvaccinated are absolutely the throes of the pandemic.”

While it is possible that the new variant could cause another outbreak in New York, it’s doubtful that infections would rise to the level they were in April 2020. Still, it’s worth taking into consideration that this new variant is becoming the dominant coronavirus strain in the city.

Do I need to wear a mask indoors if I’ve been vaccinated?

In late June, the World Health Organization recommended that all individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, wear masks in public due to the threat of the more transmissible delta variant. While the risk of contracting COVID-19 is relatively low for vaccinated individuals, they could still become infected with the virus – and a small number of those people could become severely ill.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city would not reinstate a mask mandate again, even though other cities have, including Los Angeles and St. Louis. “Masks have value, unquestionably, but masks are not going at the root of the problem. Vaccination is,” de Blasio said during a press briefing last week. “So we do not intend a mask mandate. We do intend to double down on vaccination.”

Piltch-Loeb said that deciding whether or not to wear a mask indoors if you’re vaccinated should depend on a few things, such as if you are in an environment where you know everyone is masked, or if you’re around people who are immunodeficient. “It’s definitely a good idea to wear a mask indoors with people you don’t know, meaning you don’t know that everybody you are with is vaccinated,” she said. “It depends on where you are going, and who you’re going to be with. If you are going to a place that is indoors, that is poorly ventilated and you don’t know that everybody there is vaccinated, wearing a mask can only protect you and will not harm you and would likely be a good idea if you are concerned about possibly being infected with COVID-19. Now the vaccines are incredibly effective, but they are not 100% effective, no vaccine is.”

If I already contracted COVID-19, do I need to get vaccinated? Don’t I already have antibodies to fight off another infection?

Health experts have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, even if someone was previously infected with the virus, as it’s unclear how long the antibodies will last. Experts are also unsure of how immune people will be to new variants, with those natural defenses alone.

Why are some vaccinated people contracting COVID-19?

Even though the COVID-19 vaccinations, especially the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, have been strong defenses against the virus, like any vaccination they’re not impenetrable force fields that protect against COVID-19. Cases known as “breakthrough infections,” which is when someone who has been vaccinated tests positive for the virus or experiences mild symptoms, are normal and actually show that the vaccines are working, according to Piltch-Loeb, since they are “preventing hospitalization and death.”

If I’m fully vaccinated, do I need to get tested for COVID-19? If so, how often?

It depends. Experts said that it’s not necessary for fully vaccinated people to be routinely tested for the virus, even if they’re exposed to an infected individual. However, if someone begins to experience COVID-19 symptoms after exposure to the virus, it is recommended that they get tested. Piltch-Loeb also said people may want to consider getting tested before seeing someone who may be immunocompromised “because any encounter with the virus may be incredibly risky for that person.”

I received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should I get an mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer or Moderna to protect myself against the delta variant?

Some renowned virologists have gotten vaccinated with Pfizer after it was discovered that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be less effective at preventing infections caused by the delta variant.

However, other experts, such as Piltch-Loeb, felt like there wasn’t currently enough evidence to suggest it’s worthwhile. “There isn’t actually much of a difference, in terms of who we’re seeing get the breakthrough infection or breakthrough disease, whether they’ve gotten the mRNA vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning we’re not seeing that people who got Johnson & Johnson are having a worse bout with the virus, or the delta variant,” she said.

Can my employer make me get vaccinated?

Employers in New York have the right to institute a vaccination mandate. In fact, on Friday, de Blasio encouraged private businesses in the city to do just that in an effort to increase the city’s vaccination rate and protect people from the delta variant.

Last week, the city announced that all city health care workers will need to either receive a COVID-19 vaccination or be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing, beginning in August. So far only 60% of city hospital workers have been vaccinated. Still, there’s no word yet on whether or not this mandate would be applied to all municipal employees.