Gloria Kennett is eager to take a long-awaited beach vacation, but she is keeping a watchful eye on new cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Ms. Kennett, a hotel executive in Chicago, is vaccinated, but her 9-month-old daughter isn't yet eligible. For now they're planning to go. But if they see a big surge in cases, they'll hold off. They're reassured that they can get a refund if they cancel.
The more-infectious Delta variant has quickly spread around the world, and is now the most common strain of the COVID-19 virus circulating in the U.S. An analysis of genetic sequencing data as of June 27 showed that the Delta strain now makes up about 40% of positive COVID-19 test samples, according to Helix, a population genomics company that collects and analyzes test samples from several U.S. states.
The CDC has said that fully vaccinated Americans are well protected, even against variants. But children under the age of 12 aren't yet eligible for vaccination.
Children are still at far less risk than adults for severe complications or death from the virus. Most children who get COVID-19 still have mild or asymptomatic cases. There is no indication that young adults and children are more vulnerable proportionately to the Delta variant than other age groups, and any pockets of increased transmission mostly reflect the fact that they haven't been immunized, scientists say. "There's no evidence it's more severe in children," says Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases doctor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Here's what doctors say parents need to know about keeping unvaccinated children safe this summer.
Keep unvaccinated kids' masks on indoors
Masking indoors, especially around unvaccinated adults outside a child's household, is more important as the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain, says Andrew Janowski, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children's Hospital. While many parts of the U.S. have relaxed masking and social distancing rules for those who are vaccinated, unvaccinated children should continue the same precautions they took against earlier strains of the virus. "A lot of families and parents can apply the same rules they've been following," he says.
Look out for regional hotspots
Local vaccination rates will be a big determinant of how strongly Delta takes hold in different regions. Places with fewer vaccinated adults are more likely to see cases rise, potentially creating a bigger strain on area hospitals, says Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. For families taking part in camps or traveling to different parts of the country, Dr. Malani suggests tracking case numbers, test-positivity rates and deaths. "You have to find ways to move toward something that feels like normal, but to do it in a way that's safe for their family," she says.