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Why the delta variant is more contagious and how it makes you sicker quicker

The delta variant may lead to new COVID-19 symptoms. So how long are you contagious?

People wear protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic, in the Queens borough of New York.
Pedestrians wear protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic, in the Queens borough of New York on May 19, 2021.
Frank Franklin II, Associated Press

The delta variant has changed the game when it comes to the pandemic. Health officials suggest infected people can spread the virus to five to nine people, compared to two or three with the normal variant of COVID-19.

How long are you contagious with the delta variant?

You could be contagious for up to two weeks with the coronavirus — no matter the variant.

But people get sicker quicker from the delta variant, though, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the delta variant, it took people three to five days to test positive. But in 2020, the average positive test came on average six days after exposure.

  • “Not only were Delta-infected individuals testing positive two days earlier, on average, they were also way more infectious by the time their infections were detectible,” according to MIT.

That’s what we know so far about the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Fully vaccinated people should get tested for COVID-19 somewhere between three to five days after exposure. From there, you should wear a mask in public for 14 days until you test negative.
  • People should consider quarantining for 14 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus. You might shorten your quarantine after day 10 without testing, or day seven after testing, per the CDC.

Is the delta variant more contagious?

Yes. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said during a COVID-19 briefing this week that the delta variant infects more people than previous strains, like the original alpha variant, according to MarketWatch.

  • “The delta variant is highly contagious,” she said. “To put this in perspective: if you get sick with the alpha variant, you could infect about two other unvaccinated people. If you get sick with the delta variant, we estimate that you can infect about five other unvaccinated people — more than twice as many as the original strain.”

The delta variant can infect more people because infected people have higher viral loads, meaning they can transmit the virus a lot quicker.