By Joanne Kenen

THE DELTA IS IN THE DETAILS — For public health officials and the Biden administration, the Delta variant is the biggest communication conundrum we’ve seen in a while.

Don’t panic, they tell us in one breath.

Well, maybe panic a bit, they tell us in the next, urging us to put our masks back on and think twice about how, when, where and with whom we gather indoors. Delta seldom makes vaccinated people seriously ill — but it can and does infect them, and then they in turn can infect others.

Telling people to both vaccinate and mask is a little like telling them to carry an umbrella but if the rain gets really heavy, add a raincoat or boots, said Andy Slavitt, who did many pandemic briefings during his recent stint in the Biden White House. Getting across complex, changing information means communicating frequently and truthfully, he said.

The “panic/don’t panic” conundrum breaks down into two parts. Don’t panic because the vaccines are pretty damn good, even for Delta. It’s rare for vaccinated people to get sick enough to go to the hospital and even better, it’s really rare for vaccinated people to die. This latest surge, as public health officials remind us, is largely an outbreak among the unvaccinated. The best way to protect ourselves and others, to contain the pandemic, is by getting vaccination rates way up.

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