14:45 PM

Why Student Leadership is Important to Containing the Delta Variant of COVID-19

By Marc Mazade, M.D., medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Cook Children’s Medical Center. 

Staring up at this totally massive wave of COVID-19Δ, upper classmen and student leaders need to take charge of their own future. To keep schools open, student athletes, student council members, section leaders, club officers, and trendsetters are going to have to model the socially responsible things that have be done - like social distancing, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, and encouraging friends and classmates to join in.

Even before the runny nose, cough, headache, chest pain, and difficulty breathing develop, clouds of viruses fill the spaces around infected people while hanging out and talking. But this time around, rather than two new cases developing from a COVID-19 infected person, five new cases are projected to develop.

For all you STEM kids, considering a fully susceptible population with no guardrails, like masking, (and making the unrealistic assumption that no one either enters or leaves the population, infected or otherwise), we previously projected a disease prevalence of 2n or 32 infections after 5 cycles of transmission. However, we are now looking at 5n or 3125 new infections after the 5th cycle of transmission. You could do some calculus and quickly find the sum of all people affected in that 40+ days (1+5+25+125+625+3125), but the school year is young, and that lesson is still to come…

Goodbye stadiums and gyms full of loyal and adoring fans! Goodbye homecoming parade! Am I right?

So how do vaccination rates and guardrail practices impact the pandemic and why should I care? Well, let’s start by looking at delta in India. Most people were unvaccinated, there were high transmission rates and dense populations, so everyone got sick really fast. That resulted in a huge, narrow spike followed by a rapid decline in cases, since, after a very short period of time, few susceptible people were walking around. Now let’s take the same virus and transplant it into a population with modest vaccination rates and inconsistent guardrail practices. Now we have “fattened” the curve over time, still with huge numbers of people affected, but an epidemic progressing over a much longer time, flaming up now and then, but always burning.

Goodbye ski trip! Goodbye Prom! Goodbye graduation party! Got me?

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. We could take a fat curve and just slice off the back half. That’s what we started to do when vaccines first entered the picture and we all still had our guardrails up. But to do it in this climate will take strong leadership. How will you lead? How will you use your language, your social media savvy, and your own individual sphere of influence to do something for your teammates, friends, teachers, parents, and grandparents? Besides, where would you rather be when your big moment comes - sitting home shivering, holding a box of tissues, or hoisting the UIL district trophy with everyone else who followed your example?