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If safety precautions are implemented and followed correctly, the delta variant won’t stop the transition back to normal life.

As many countries are returning to normal activity for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, it remains important to stay vigilant in all efforts to ensure a safe transition. Mask mandates across the country are becoming more lenient, larger groups of people are being allowed to gather in public spaces and social distancing guidelines are receding. While this progress is exciting to see after a turbulent year, a new strain of COVID-19, the delta variant, is threatening to halt these changes. For this reason, existing and possible future safety protocols need to be taken seriously.

Although news of this variant is continuing to come out, guidelines for the upcoming fall semester at JMU haven’t been updated to be more stringent. The largest change was announced recently via Facebook, when JMU shared its decision to have students return to campus fully vaccinated, a move which would give life on campus a semblance of normalcy. 

Yale Medicine reports that the delta variant, which is 75% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, has rapidly spread throughout the world and is now a concern within the U.S. Yale Medicine has also found that those who have been vaccinated are less likely to be infected by this strain, but with over half of the country still unvaccinated, cases are likely to surge again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that in the future, this new strain will likely become the predominant form of coronavirus in the U.S. Although there’s still research being done on the delta variant and what it’ll mean for the future of the pandemic, there are still basic protocols that should be observed in order to preserve the health and safety of the country.

In order to understand what steps need to be taken, health professionals have had to gather data about the delta variant and who it’s affecting. Doctors have found that this strain seems to be affecting a younger population than the original strain of COVID-19 that tore through the country. Healthline asserts that the number of young adults catching this strain is so high because they’re largely unvaccinated when compared to the 78% of adults aged 60 and older who are vaccinated. 

The first step in preventing the spread of this strain is to get vaccinated. The CDC has also updated their guidance to encourage individuals to wear masks over the past week. They push for citizens to wear masks in crowded indoor and outdoor places, even if vaccinated. For those who have not been vaccinated, it’s strongly suggested to wear masks in any public space in order to protect their immune systems. 

Despite the rapid spread of this new variant, on July 9, the CDC shared that vaccinated students do not need to wear masks while on college campuses. This would largely aid in the transition back to the brick-and-mortar education students have missed over the past year, but it’s up to individual colleges and universities across the country to decide if they’ll heed this suggestion or not. University spokesperson and director of communications Mary-Hope Vass said in a statement to The Breeze, “The university will continue to follow health guidance issued by local, state and federal entities. The medical team, in partnership with senior leaders, will communicate with the JMU community should any health-related guidance change.”

Beyond continuing to wear masks and prioritizing getting vaccinated, future updates will be made by the CDC as more is learned about the delta variant. For now, it seems that the transition to normal life will continue as is, with most businesses opening to half or full capacity, and many opting to make masks optional for vaccinated customers — and this applies in the higher education world, as well. Many are cautiously optimistic for a return to normalcy within the next year, but this can only occur if safety protocols are taken seriously.

To see updates regarding COVID-19 guidelines at JMU for the upcoming year, visit https://www.jmu.edu/stop-the-spread/academic-affairs/student-resources.shtml or find JMU on Facebook.

Liz Riccio is a junior media arts and design and psychology major. Contact Liz at riccioem@dukes.jmu.edu.