There are two primary inquiries to ask about any variant of the Covid-19 virus: Is it extra contagious than earlier variations of the virus? And is it extra extreme?

When a variant is extra contagious, it results in an increase within the variety of infections, particularly among the many unvaccinated. When a variant is extra extreme, it causes worse signs for the typical one who will get the virus and results in a larger proportion of circumstances that end in hospitalization or loss of life.

It’s straightforward to confuse these two totally different ideas when a variant — like Delta — begins spreading. If the variant is extra contagious, it typically seems to be extra extreme as properly as a result of the increase in caseloads results in a rise within the uncooked variety of hospitalizations and deaths, as Dr. Robert Wachter of the College of California, San Francisco, defined to me.

In response, journalists and a few consultants discuss concerning the new variant being “worse,” “riskier” or “extra harmful” — broad ideas that muddy the distinction between contagiousness and severity. “A part of the issue is imprecision in language,” Dr. Rebecca Wurtz, an infectious-disease professional on the College of Minnesota, mentioned.

The distinction between the 2 ideas is essential. If a brand new variant isn’t truly extra extreme, it doesn’t current a larger risk to a typical one who contracts Covid. Vaccinated folks would remain protected. For kids too younger to be vaccinated, severe Covid signs would nonetheless be exceedingly rare — rarer than many different on a regular basis dangers, like using in a automotive — and nonetheless concentrated amongst youngsters with different well being issues.

After the Alpha variant started spreading late final 12 months, many individuals assumed that it was each extra contagious and extra extreme. The info quickly advised a unique story, although: Alpha appears to be solely extra contagious.

Now the story could also be repeating itself with Delta. It’s considerably extra contagious than even Alpha by nearly each measure. It doesn’t look like extra extreme, based mostly on the information out there thus far.

That knowledge stays messy, and it might change. You will discover slender statistics that time in any course, variously suggesting that Delta is extra extreme, equally extreme or much less extreme than earlier variations of the virus. However the bulk of the proof signifies no significant change.

“So far as anybody can inform, Delta isn’t extra harmful within the sense that it causes worse illness,” Wurtz advised me. “It’s a sneaky opportunist, not a mayhem man.”

Janet Baseman, a College of Washington epidemiologist, mentioned: “I’ve not seen compelling proof that the Delta variant is extra extreme.” Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Girls’s Hospital in Boston advised me, “This sense of larger illness severity is extra anecdotal than pushed by precise knowledge.” Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Analysis mentioned, “I don’t suppose it makes children sicker.”

Dr. Aaron Richterman of the College of Pennsylvania mentioned that he didn’t suppose Delta required vaccinated mother and father to behave in a different way than they did a couple of weeks in the past. Richterman has younger youngsters himself, and his household has not modified its conduct, he mentioned.

A great way to know Delta is to look to England, the place the variant has been circulating widely since May, longer than within the U.S.

If Delta had been extra extreme than earlier variations of the virus, the proportion of circumstances resulting in hospitalization or loss of life needs to be rising. They’re not, as you’ll be able to see in these two charts:

The typical severity of Covid declined within the spring, due to England’s mass vaccination program. (The vaccines scale back extreme Covid circumstances much more sharply than complete circumstances.) Because the spring, severity has remained in the identical tight vary. The strains on these charts would most likely have began rising in Could or June if Delta had been extra extreme.

In some ways, this image shouldn’t be stunning. It’s extremely uncommon for a virus variant to be each extra contagious and extra extreme.

Delta, after all, continues to be an issue.

For unvaccinated older adults, Covid doesn’t should be moreover extreme to be a mortal risk. The elevated contagiousness of Delta has led to Covid surges across much of the globe, placing these unvaccinated adults at larger threat of contracting it.

In consequence, vaccination has turn into much more essential than it already was. Within the U.S., areas with larger vaccination skepticism — which are usually politically conservative areas — at the moment are struggling bigger outbreaks. In lots of different international locations, the place folks have typically not had the opportunity to be vaccinated, circumstances are additionally surging. Nonetheless, the worldwide mass vaccination program is continuing with agonizing slowness.

As has typically been the case with Covid, the story isn’t a easy one. Delta is a menacing improvement in some locations and should make little distinction in others. “Delta is creating an enormous quantity of noise” within the U.S., Invoice Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told The Times, “however I don’t suppose that it’s proper to be ringing an enormous alarm bell.”

Extra virus information:

“Grandmaster” is the very best title a chess participant can obtain — one which even the brightest stars take years to earn. Gamers should get a excessive ranking by taking part in properly in tournaments and by attaining a collection of sport benchmarks, known as norms, at certified occasions.

Since 1950, almost 2,000 gamers have turn into grandmasters. However solely the highest 30 gamers can create a sustainable profession from chess. So some younger gamers — and their often-obsessive mother and father — are setting their sights on a brand new objective: the title of the youngest grandmaster.

Being the youngest grandmaster in historical past is “a door to international acclaim and company sponsorships and invites to the largest tournaments,” Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman write in The Occasions.

However getting that title might contain greater than successful. “It’s an open secret in chess that many gamers minimize facet offers with match organizers and different high rivals that assist them obtain norms they could have struggled to get,” Nechepurenko and Friedman write.

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee had been detoxified and toxified. Right here is at present’s puzzle — or you’ll be able to play online.

Right here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Completely livid (5 letters).

When you’re within the temper to play extra, discover all our games here.

Thanks for spending a part of your morning with The Occasions. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The Occasions had a particular customer this week: