NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As big concerts and sporting events return to Nashville, infectious disease experts are warning the pandemic isn't over yet, and people should continue to wear masks to protect themselves and others.
"It is remarkable how much this Delta variant has changed the game," said Dr. William Schaffner, an Infectious Disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "It is really sufficiently different from the parent strain that we are so used to."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study that says the Delta COVID-19 variant is as contagious as the Chicken Pox. It also found that variant produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people if they get infected, and while the vaccination makes it less likely that you'll catch COVID-19 in the first place -- those who do could spread it to others.
Officials with the CDC said these findings reaffirm new recommendations that people, even those who are vaccinated, in areas with high COVID-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors. Over 75% of the US population live in these areas.
Dr. Schaffner said the new data is a reminder that everyone should keep their masks handy.
"For our own safety and for the safety of others, if indoors in a crowd, vaccinated people also have to put on their masks."
Garth Brooks is scheduled to perform at Nissan Stadium in front of a packed house on July 31. The Music City Grand Prix Indy Car Race will be held in downtown Nashville the following week. Dr. Schaffner said attending outdoor events is safer than being indoors, but there are still risks.
"Overall, outdoors the risk is pretty low, but you are in a large crowd, people will be enthusiastic. Please wear your mask, and reduce your risk even further," said Dr. Schaffner.
Nissan Stadium's policy doesn't require masks, but encourages face coverings for non-vaccinated individuals attending events. Additional COVID-19 safety protocols will also be in place during the concert.
Luke Bryan will perform at Bridgestone Arena on July 30. Earlier in the week, the arena updated its policy to recommending all people - including those who are fully vaccinated - wear masks inside the facility, except while actively eating or drinking.
Dr. Schaffner said vaccinated people are at greater risk of contracting a breakthrough infection in a crowded indoors setting.
"I am always concerned about older people, or anyone at any age who are immune compromised," said Dr. Schaffner. "They should think twice before getting into such a large crowd."
The Metro Nashville Public Health Department reports there have been 354 breakthrough cases among Davidson County residents, which represent 0.1% of all cases. A total of 335,492 Davidson County residents are fully vaccinated. There have been three breakthrough deaths in Davidson County. Officials said this reinforces the current vaccine is working very well.
Currently, 52.9% of Davidson County residents have received one dose of the vaccine, while 48.2% are fully vaccinated. Dr. Schaffner said the best way for everyone to protect themselves from the Delta variant is to get vaccinated, and it isn't too late.
"Please come in, join the rest of us, and be vaccinated," said Dr. Schaffner. "It is in your best interest, and the best interest if your family. The vaccines are safe. The vaccines are effective."