Los Angeles County health officials are once again asking their residents -- even the fully vaccinated ones -- to mask up, this time against a newer and more transmissible variant of the COVID-19 disease.
The World Health Organization is also urging fully vaccinated people to wear masks so the variant doesn’t spread to unvaccinated people.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance. Those who are fully vaccinated are free to take off their masks in most cases.
So, the question is: Is San Diego considering another mask mandate due to the Delta variant?
The short answer is, no -- for now.
The county is monitoring the situation and could change their recommendations on masks if the CDC or the California Department of Public Health change theirs, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said.
"We continue to monitor the situation with COVID -19 and in particular the Delta variant and want to emphasize the single best action you can take to protect yourself and your family is to be fully vaccinated," Fletcher said. "We will continue to align our public health guidance with CDC and CDPH and do not anticipate any changes."
Even so, there are still some things you should know about the Delta variant and its effect on San Diego County.
What is the Delta Variant?
The “Delta” variant of COVID-19 is a mutation that first originated in India in October 2020, and is blamed for rampant infections in that country and outbreaks in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Federal health authorities are estimating that 20% of all new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are now due to the Delta variant, known as B.1617.2, up from 10% a week ago.
The variant is considered to be far more contagious than previous mutations of the COVID-19 virus, and potentially capable of making patients more severely ill.
The World Health Organization reported the Delta variant has been detected in more than 60 countries.
Is the Delta variant in San Diego County?
There have been 16 known cases of the Delta variant in San Diego County as of June 23, far fewer than other variants of concern. Although, the county conducts limited sequential testing to identify variants.
Of those Delta variant cases, "Almost 95% of our delta variant cases are from those not fully vaccinated," Supervisor Fletcher said.
One woman diagnosed with the Delta variant needed hospitalization and was later discharged. No deaths have been reported.
There have been five cases of the Delta variant among those under 20 years old. The majority of cases affect those 20 to 49 years old. Only one cases was reported in someone over the age of 59.
In comparison, there have been 2,163 cases of the Alpha variant first detected in the U.K., more than 1,370 cases of the Epsilon variants first detected in California and about 350 cases of the Gamma variant first detected in Brazil.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has said that the Delta variant is more contagious and causes more severe disease than others. In the last two weeks, the prevalence of cases resulting from it has doubled to just over 20%.
What are the symptoms of the COVID-19 Delta variant?
Symptoms of the variant are similar to that of the original virus, just more severe. Other symptoms include stomach pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, joint pain and hearing loss.
Why did Los Angeles County change its guidance?
LA County health officials "strongly recommend" everyone -- vaccinated or not -- wear masks when they're in indoor public places, particularly grocery stores, retail stores, theaters and workplaces, to protect against the highly contagious Delta variant.
A statement from the agency said the guidance comes due to the uncertainty of the variant and its effect on others.
“Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions like physical distancing and capacity limits,” the statement read.
Does the vaccine work against the Delta Variant?
Health officials have said people who are fully vaccinated are protected against the variant but the CDC there is still more to be known.
"The vaccine is protective against this variant," said Dr. Abi Olulade, Family Medicine doctor at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Center said, adding that of course, it doesn't mean the chances of catching the disease are zero.
"What we do know, based on analysis from the public health in England is that the Pfizer vaccine does protect against getting hospitalized, which is, of course, one of the most concerning things from the virus," Olulade said.
An infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego said the vaccine is only effective overall if more people get vaccinated.
"The less that we get vaccinated and the more of the virus that continues to mutate in our population, the more likely it becomes -- that we'll eventually come upon a variant that can get around the immunity from the vaccinations," Dr. David Pride explained.
Dr. Olulade agreed: "If you don't have more people getting vaccinated, then it gives this virus a chance to continue to spread."
According to Supervisor Fletcher, the vast majority of cases of the Delta variant in San Diego County are among unvaccinated individuals.
What is Delta Plus?
Delta Plus is a mutation of the Delta variant that may even be more transmissible than its cousin. As of June 15, cases of the new variant had been identified in the U.S., CNBC reported.