Two steps forward, one step back. 

That’s what it feels like with the “Delta variant” that’s renewing fears among many Americans. It hasn’t helped that advice on what to do and how to cope has changed, helping to sow confusion. 

But it’s important to remember the two steps forward that we’ve taken as a nation. A vaccine was developed, and tens of millions of shots have been administered. The Biden administration’s COVID-19 director, Cyrus Shahpar, said Monday that 70% of eligible adults have now been at least partly vaccinated. But this means that 30% have not. “Let’s continue working to get more eligible vaccinated!” Shahar said. 

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For seniors the news is even better: At least 90% of everyone over the age of 65 has gotten at least one shot. But anyone who has only gotten one shot needs to be fully vaccinated.

It’s difficult to overstate how important these two steps are, because for all the scary talk about the Delta variant, you already have the best medical defense available—if you’re fully vaccinated. 

That’s why when you hear about cases, hospitalizations and deaths going up again like it’s 2020, remember this: Nearly all of this is driven by the unvaccinated. What scientists call “breakthrough” infections in people who are fully vaccinated make up a tiny—very tiny—percentage of cases.

That being said, here’s one important thing to be aware of: symptoms of the Delta variant seem to be different from the traditional COVID-19 symptoms we heard about in 2020. With COVID-19, it was loss of smell, shortness of breath, fever and persistent cough. But a British study suggests that symptoms of the Delta variant resemble a common cold: headache, runny nose and a sore throat. So if you develop these cold-like symptoms, be aware that it could be more than that. 

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So what does all this mean for your day-to-day life? I’ve been traveling for the past week and I can tell you this: Masks are back (did they really go away?), at least in public. Airports, planes, hotel lobbies, restaurants all seem quite busy—almost a 2019, pre-pandemic feel—but masks are ubiquitous. Since 30% of people haven’t gotten even one shot, I assume that’s the percentage of people on my planes and in my hotels who haven’t either. Since I don’t know who they are, in public places I’m wearing a mask again. 

What about you? Since this is MarketWatch, I’ll say that in a way, this is similar to what a good investment adviser will always tell you: Much depends on your age and tolerance for risk. If you are older, have been fully vaccinated and wear a mask, the data (see above) suggest you’ll be OK if you travel.

But there are other variables to consider. Do you have any underlying health conditions? And geography is a factor: vaccination levels are far higher in some parts of the country than others; your risk level may rise or fall accordingly. In the end, I think common sense is always decent advice. 

Speaking of common sense, it’s always worth repeating some additional basics. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization (WHO) says in this podcast that in addition to (obviously) being vaccinated, wash your hands frequently (including just before putting on or taking off a mask) and opening windows if you can for better ventilation. Such measures, she adds, “will reduce the possibility of exposure to the virus and reduce the possibility of you getting infected.”

Meanwhile, one thing that has spread as fast, if not faster, than any virus is disinformation. It’s easy to find false or misleading information on the internet, of course; here’s a WHO “mythbuster” page that hopefully will destroy any incorrect ideas that you might have about viruses, cures, masks and much more. Well worth your time.

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