With the Delta variant, is being outside in a big crowd still safe?
If you’re planning to attend a college or pro football game or a big outdoor concert in New Jersey, there are currently no social distancing rules, no requirements to wear a mask and no one is going to ask you to present proof that you’ve been vaccinated.
But with the Delta variant continuing to surge, it doesn’t necessarily mean this kind of a setting is safe even if you are fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Stanley H. Weiss, a Rutgers University epidemiologist and infectious disease expert and professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
He said the original version of COVID that was circulating last year was much less contagious, and the chance for infection in an outside setting was remote, but there is mounting evidence that’s not necessarily the case now.
“We know that the delta variant has a much higher number of particles in the nasal pharynges than we had in the original strain, that poses a risk of much higher transmission rates,” he said.
He said being seated tightly together with thousands of other people in an outdoor setting could pose a higher risk of infection than it did before because “we know with more vigorous breathing, which occurs with singing, with yelling, with screaming, with vigorous physical activity that there is going to be more vigorous expulsion of the virus, posing a greater risk to others around you.”
He said recent data in states with high vaccination rates, including New Jersey, shows a growing percentage of newly confirmed COVID cases are in fully vaccinated people, and there have been reports from around the country of fully vaccinated individuals attending outdoor weddings and other events, and some of them wind up testing positive for the virus.
“The anecdotal information suggests that it is so much more efficiently transmitted, that the assumptions that we had made may well be wrong,” he said.
At the same time Dr. Weiss was quick to point out even with the Delta variant, vaccination still offers extremely strong protection against serious illness, but there are indications the amount of mild COVID infection and illness is increasing.
He said the virus is essentially diluted outside by circulating air but with the Delta variant “if you’re close to people the virus clearly has a chance to be near you and to be in the air you could breath.”
He noted other types of variants may soon begin to evolve and it may take us weeks, or even months to realize what’s happening.
“In this interval time I think we need to be more cautious, we should not let our guard down,” he said.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.