#WordinBlack: Delta variant driving explosion of new COVID-19 cases

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In this May 21, 2021 file photo, a person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia. New evidence showing the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox has prompted U.S. health officials to consider changing advice on how the nation fights the coronavirus. Recommending masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health care providers are among measures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering, Friday, July 30. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the AFRO

COVID-19 deaths in predominantly White communities have continued to rise at dramatic rates, providing a glimpse into just how bad the pandemic remains in African-American neighborhoods.

“We see the disparity starting to close, but not because Black people are dying less, it’s because white people are dying more,” remarked Dr. Ebony J. Hilton, the medical director for GoodStock Consulting, and Associate Professor, Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia. “Between February and March, 58,000 White Americans died of COVID, and it’s largely because of the ‘I don’t want to wear a mask,’ crowd.”

Dr. Hilton insisted that masks should remain a requirement even for those vaccinated.

She also took local, state and federal officials to task for “playing politics” with the virus, warning that the new Delta variant is highly contagious and easily spreadable. While the District has reported a high number of vaccinations, the health department has not publicly commented on the number of potential cases from the Delta variant. Maryland public health officials reported about 64 cases in June of the coronavirus related to the Delta variant. Virginia reported about 70 cases in June.

The variant has now circulated to all 50 U.S. states, with 52% of all new COVID cases caused by it. “It looks so far that the vaccines that are available are providing protection against the variant,” Natalie Talis, Alexandria Health Department’s population health manager, remarked.

Still, the rapid spread of the Delta variant has alarmed public health officials. “Although we expected the Delta variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, this rapid rise is troubling,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Also troubling, two recent studies have raised the alarm on the seriousness of “Long COVID,” the after effects of someone getting the disease. Investigators at the Stanford School of Medicine and Saarland University in Germany conducted the most comprehensive molecular study to date of the brains of people who died of COVID-19. They reported that the evidence turned up unmistakable signs of inflammation and impaired brain circuits.

Investigators reported that what they saw looks a lot like what’s observed in the brains of people who died of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The findings may help explain why many COVID-19 patients report neurological problems. In addition, these complaints increase with more severe cases of COVID-19,” the researchers wrote.

“And they can persist as an aspect of ‘long COVID,’ a long-lasting disorder that sometimes arises following infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.” About one-third of individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 report symptoms of fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and depression, Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D. professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford, told researchers.

“During the 1918 pandemic, what we saw was that it impacted the younger generation more than the older,” Dr. Hilton said. “When we tracked their lives, there was a 25% increase in diabetes and heart disease and less educational attainment, and they were physically shorter than the generation before. It gives you an idea of what the inflammatory process does.”

An Oxford Academic study also discovered that, at month 12, only 22.9% of patients were completely free of symptoms. The most frequent symptoms were:
· Reduced exercise capacity (56.3%).
· Fatigue (53.1%).
· Dyspnoea (37.5%).
· Concentration problems (39.6%).
· Problems finding words (32.3%).
· Sleeping problems (26%).

Females showed significantly more neurocognitive symptoms than males, the study authors noted. They concluded that neurocognitive long COVID symptoms could persist for one year after COVID-19 symptom onset and substantially reduce life quality.

Why Mask Are Still Important

Dr. Hilton concluded that all should strongly consider getting vaccinated, and everyone should continue wearing masks. “People are dying today, and they are likely leaving behind orphans,” Dr. Hilton determined. “We know that one in nine Black children were already likely to see foster care in their lifetime. Because of COVID, imagine how many now if we are not taking it seriously and not getting vaccinated? It is not worth the risk. We have an agent, an intervention that has been proven safe, and it works.”

She added: “Look at the studies. We have 77% of people saying that they are not fully back to being themselves after they have experienced COVID. They have brain fog and other problems. It is not worth the risk, especially when we think about how the Delta variant has shown to be more contagious and more transmissible for our younger generation. We are setting ourselves up for a crisis.”

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