From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our knowledge about the virus has constantly evolved, and we are now confronting a new challenge. Over the past several months, we have seen a rise in COVID-19 infections as a result of the delta variant, a new strain of the original virus causing COVID-19. As of last week, delta made up over 99% of COVID-19 cases in New York City, up from 9% in early June.
Understandably, many New Yorkers have questions about what delta is and how it will impact everyday life. Here are three things to know.
First things first: Vaccines. Viruses are tricky and will mutate in order to survive. The delta variant is a prime example; it has evolved to become fast and formidable. Compared to the original COVID-19, it is at least twice as contagious, and it may lead to more serious illness.
The good news is, we can protect ourselves and our community by getting vaccinated. The vaccines lower your chances of getting COVID-19, and if you do get infected, they will significantly lower your risk of hospitalization or death. In fact, a new study on people in New York found that, even with the delta variant spreading, COVID-19 vaccines were more than 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations.
So if you are unvaccinated, get to the nearest vaccination site, or sign up to get the vaccine at home. It has never been easier: just call 877-VAX4NYC. Get your first dose, second dose – and third only if your doctor has said that you are significantly immunocompromised. The vast majority of New Yorkers do not need a third dose of the vaccine at this time.
Second, masks. I urge New Yorkers to continue to wear masks indoors, regardless of whether you’re vaccinated or not. We know that masks stop the spread of COVID-19. In New York City, masks are required on all public transportation, in health care settings, and in schools, because most children remain unvaccinated. But wearing a snug-fitting, high-quality mask in all indoor settings is another way to protect yourself and those around you.
Third, our basic public health guidance remains as critical as it has always been: wash your hands, keep your distance, stay home if you’re feeling ill, and get tested if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. These steps have helped us all stay safe throughout the pandemic, and they are an absolute must for anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated.
As the City’s doctor, I want all New Yorkers to know that, while the delta variant is spreading quickly in our communities, we do have a pathway out of the pandemic with vaccination. We have come so far in our fight against COVID-19. I remain hopeful that as more New Yorkers get vaccinated, we will return to our normal lives again, safely.
(Dr. Chokshi is New York City’s Health Commissioner.)