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VERIFY Weekly: The delta variant and vaccine mandates

Here’s a look at the latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic and how the delta variant is affecting the fun activities people have gotten back to this year.

The delta variant, which is more contagious than the original strain of the COVID-19 virus, accounts for more than 90% of new cases across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of recent research that suggests vaccinated people may carry a high viral load of the delta variant, the CDC recommends everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission rates.

The latest developments in the pandemic can be difficult to keep up with. So, as part of this week’s “VERIFY Weekly” feature, the VERIFY team answered a few questions about where things stand with COVID-19 and how the pandemic continues to affect some of the fun activities people have been getting back to this year. You can watch the full video on our YouTube page here.

THE QUESTION

Can you still contract COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, vaccinated people can still get infected with COVID-19. Those cases, known as breakthrough cases, are rare and usually mild.

WHAT WE FOUND

It’s not a surprise to health officials that some vaccinated people are still contracting COVID-19. The World Health Organization says no vaccine provides 100% protection.

Although breakthrough cases happen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the vaccines are effective and help limit severe side effects for most vaccinated people who get COVID-19.

“Some fully vaccinated people will still be hospitalized and die,” the CDC says. “However, fully vaccinated people are much less likely to be hospitalized or die than people with similar risk factors who are not vaccinated.”

As of July 26, the CDC says more than 163 million people in the U.S. were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. During that time, the CDC had received reports of 6,587 fully vaccinated people who had been hospitalized or died with COVID-19. According to that data, 99.9% of fully vaccinated people have not been hospitalized or died.

While the data from the CDC gives a barometer on breakthrough infections that result in hospitalizations or deaths, it’s not exact. The agency noted that not all hospitalizations and deaths were related to COVID-19 but didn’t specify exact numbers. The data is also likely an undercount, the CDC said, because collection relies on passive and voluntary reporting.

The bottom line, the CDC says, is vaccination is the best way to be protected against COVID-19 and its variants.

“COVID-19 vaccines are effective against severe disease and death from variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 currently circulating in the United States, including the delta variant,” the agency says.

THE QUESTION

Can a fully vaccinated person give an unvaccinated person COVID-19 through kissing?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, it’s possible for a vaccinated person to spread COVID-19 to an unvaccinated person through kissing.

WHAT WE FOUND

First, it’s important to establish that it is possible to transmit COVID-19 by kissing. An article from the Mayo Clinic explains why.

“The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks,” the Mayo Clinic said in the article. “These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouth or nose of a person nearby. Coming into contact with a person's spit through kissing or other sexual activities could expose you to the virus.”

While the CDC says transmission of COVID-19 “is likely to be substantially reduced in vaccinated people,” it is still possible.

Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, shared a similar assessment.

“There is some residual risk of transmission, and as long as community rates are high, I think we ought to exercise some caution,” he said. “So, I think the straight answer is, yes, you can spread it and, yes, you can contract it, but the risk is a lot lower than it was before being vaccinated.”

THE QUESTION

Can private sports and concert venues require attendees to be vaccinated?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, private venues can require attendees to be vaccinated. But many are not making that mandate right now.

WHAT WE FOUND

After a year of lockdowns, many people are enjoying live concerts and sporting events again. But each show or game has its own rules regarding COVID-19.

There have been instances in which people had to be vaccinated to go to a show. In June, when the Foo Fighters played the first full capacity show at Madison Square Garden since the start of the pandemic, everyone 16 and older had to be vaccinated to attend the show. More recently, at Lollapalooza, people had to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to attend the festival.

On the other hand, there are many venues and organizations that are not currently requiring attendees to be vaccinated. That includes the NFL, which has its first preseason game on Aug. 5.

If you’re unsure about whether vaccinations are required at your next show or game, you can check with the venue. They’ll be able to let you know if there’s a vaccine mandate or other COVID-related safety rules such as wearing masks or having a negative test. That’s especially important as more cities, like Kansas City, Atlanta and Washington D.C., enact indoor mask mandates again.

THE QUESTION

Can a public university require students to be vaccinated?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, public universities in most states can require students to be vaccinated.

WHAT WE FOUND

The college school year is just around the corner for public universities across the country. And although the pandemic may not lead to the shutdowns that occurred last school year, it’s still affecting what this school year will look like.

A federal court ruling recently came down on the issue of vaccine requirements at public universities. Eight students sued Indiana University over its mandate, which allows medical and religious exemptions, arguing the requirement violated their “bodily autonomy and medical privacy.” But a judge ruled the university has the right, under the 14th Amendment, to require vaccinations.

“Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff,” judge Damon Leichty wrote in his ruling.

Many other public universities, including Washington State University, the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland, are requiring students to be vaccinated.

But not all colleges have a vaccine mandate for students. In fact, some states, like Texas, have barred public universities from requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

So, it’s important students check with their schools to learn what vaccine rules are in place. Students will also want to ask about what mask rules – if any – are in effect.

More from VERIFY: Fact-checking misinformation after CDC updates mask guidance for COVID-19

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