Delta variant makes it harder to reach herd immunity — doctors

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Patricia B. Mirasol

Those who can work from home should do so, said doctors, who also appealed to the public to comply with minimum health standards in order to stem the tide of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases caused by the highly infectious Delta variant.

“Wear a face mask and face shield, avoid potential super spreader events such as mass gatherings, and get vaccinated,” said Dr. Anna Lisa T. Ong-Lim, chief of the division of infectious and tropical diseases in pediatrics at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), at an Aug. 24 webinar organized by the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. and BASF Philippines.

At a system level, Dr. Ong-Lim said, variants of concern can be prevented entry by strengthening border control, monitoring endorsed arrivals, and implementing localized granular lockdowns. Local government units (LGUs) can also strengthen their implementation of prevention-detection-isolation-treatment-reintegration, as well as decrease the time between the onset of a person’s symptoms and testing.

“If workers can continue to work from home, then that is a suitable option,” added Dr. Jubert P. Benedicto, a pulmonary critical care specialist in PGH. “If workers have to go to the office, then employers can offer flexible working hours to avoid overcrowding… Establish good ventilation in the workplace as well. Position a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter somewhere.”

From maps generated in July, the Delta variant was seen to spread from 124 to 132 countries in a span of only two weeks. The most recent occurrence of the variant, recorded on Aug. 24, is in Jordan.

“The more a virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate,” said Dr. Benedicto.

This variant makes the goal of herd immunity harder, Dr. Ong-Lim noted. “Only 67% of the population needed to be vaccinated with the original strain,” she said. “With the Delta variant, we now need 83% to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.”

Delta-afflicted patients have a lesser chance of developing anosmia, or the inability to smell, Dr. Benedicto said. “Some will present with a mild cough, sore throat, or colds,” he added.

Because there’s an overlap between the symptoms of flu and COVID-19, Dr. Ong-Lim said it’s important to isolate the individual as soon as symptoms are observed, and while arrangements are being done for confirmatory testing.

“It’s instinctive to seek hospital care, because people want to be monitored,” added Dr. Ong-Lim, “but we need to prioritize the admission of severe and critical cases to preserve healthcare capacity.”

Supervised home care is advisable for those who are asymptomatic, or with mild or moderate symptoms.

On Aug. 24, PGH said that it would stop accepting walk-in patients in its emergency room due to the number of its COVID-19 patients already admitted. Data from the Department of Health also showed that 73% of the country’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds were utilized as of yesterday.