The delta variant of the coronavirus is as contagious as chickenpox and likely leads to more severe infections than earlier variants, according to an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
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The report, obtained by the New York Times on Friday, urges officials to “acknowledge the war has changed” as the highly contagious variant leads to a surge in cases across the U.S. and officials struggle to get many people vaccinated.
The report says the variant is more transmissible than other viruses that cause illnesses like SARS, Ebola, smallpox and the common cold. It also appears to more easily break through vaccines, although the vaccinated are much less likely to get seriously ill or to be hospitalized, according to the report.
The report cites unpublished data showing that the vaccinated may be able to spread the virus as easily as the unvaccinated. That unreleased data led the CDC to change its guidance on Tuesday to recommend even the vaccinated wear masks indoors in areas of the U.S. experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
However, the internal CDC report suggests even more may need to be done: “Given higher transmissibility and current vaccine coverage, universal masking is essential.”
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the New York Times on Thursday that the CDC would release data Friday showing that the delta variant can "thrive" in the airwaves of vaccinated individuals. She said even those who are vaccinated and infected with the delta variant carry "tremendous" amounts of the virus in their nose and throat.
There are now 71,000 new cases per day on average in the U.S., and new infections are increasing in almost every state, with hospitalizations nearly up to where they were a year ago.