July 16, 2021 -- COVID-19 cases are continuing to spike in communities where vaccination rates are low, leading to what CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, called “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Walensky reported sobering numbers during a news conference Friday: The most recent 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases was more than 26,300, up 70% from the previous week. The average of daily deaths is now 211 – an increase of 26%.
“There is a clear message that's coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said. “We are seeing outbreaks in parts of the country where we're seeing low vaccination coverage.”
She continued, “The good news is, if you're fully vaccinated, you're protected … our biggest concern is we are going to continue see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”
Walensky said rates have gone down considerably since the peak of the pandemic when the country saw 200,000 cases per day. However, because of the highly transmissible Delta variant, we are “in a critical moment in the pandemic.”
When asked if breakthrough infections – illness caused by COVID-19 in vaccinated people – is contributing to the spread of the Delta variant, infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci, MD, said it is unlikely.
Research shows the viral load among those who are vaccinated is so low that transmission is unlikely, but, he said, there is not sufficient clinical data on that yet.
Fauci said as of June 2021, the variant had made it to 100 countries around the world.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said four states accounted for 40% of new cases last week – one in five coming from Florida.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases is going up in every state as the Delta variant continues to spread across the nation.
An analysis by The New York Times of data from state and local health agencies showed a 7-day average of about 28,000 new cases a day on Thursday, a major jump from around 11,000 daily cases on June 20. That’s still better than the last surge in January, when there was a 7-day average of about 255,000 new cases a day.
“This will definitely be a surge,” Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Times. “It won’t be as big as what happened in January. But we still have 100 million people in the United States who are susceptible to COVID-19.”
The CDC says the Delta variant is now responsible for about 59% of new COVID-19 infections in the nation.
Hospitalizations are not nearly as high as during the dark days of January, but they’re rising from last month, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
In Springfield, MO, health officials are seeking state funding to set up a field hospital to handle the overflow of patients, USA Today reported. That was a tactic used in California during the worst days of the pandemic.
"Over the past week, we have seen dramatic increases in COVID-19-related cases," said Katie Towns, the interim Greene County, MO, Health Department director. "We need help."
Less than half of the adults in Missouri are fully vaccinated, according to the Times.
The Times said new cases are up 70% in the last 2 weeks in Mississippi, where only 43% of adults are vaccinated. That’s the lowest rate in the nation.
The Mississippi State Department of Public Health is now advising everybody over 12 to get vaccinated, all people to wear masks when indoors in public areas, and everybody over 65 to avoid indoor mass gatherings -- whether they’re vaccinated or not.
National health officials keep urging people to get vaccinated, especially because the three vaccines given emergency use authorization have been shown to give strong protection against the Delta variant.
But vaccine hesitancy remains, especially in the Southern and Midwestern states.
The Times said only about 530,000 people in the U.S. are being vaccinated a day, down from 3.3 million a day in April. Less than half the U.S. is fully vaccinated, the CDC says, though 79% of people over 65 -- the most vulnerable demographic -- are fully vaccinated.
“In March, people flooded to our vaccination sites -- all we had to do was open a door,” Ben Weston, MD, the director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management in Wisconsin, told the Times. “Now we have to go out and find people.”
About 48% of people in Milwaukee County are fully vaccinated, The Times reported.
L.A. County Makes Indoor Masking Mandatory
Los Angeles County public health officials are once again making face masks in indoor public places mandatory -- not just advisable -- regardless of a person’s vaccination status. The new masking order takes effect Saturday.
Because of the Delta variant, case counts have soared since the state government reopened the economy on June 15, L.A. County Public Health said in a news release.
The Health Department reported 210 new COVID cases on June 15, compared to 1,537 new cases on Thursday -- the highest number since mid-March. Thursday’s test positivity rate was 3.7%, up from .5% on June 15.
The Delta variant accounted for 71% of all sequenced cases from June 27 to July 3, the Health Department said.
“We expect to keep masking requirements in place until we begin to see improvements in our community transmission of COVID-19,” L.A. County Health Officer Muntu Davis, MD, said in the release.
Sacramento and Yolo counties in California are now recommending, but not requiring, that residents wear masks in indoor public places, according to SFGate. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week there was no immediate plan for a statewide requirement.
Austin, TX, Brings Back COVID Protocols
Because of a surge in infections, the city of Austin, TX, is returning to Stage 3 protocols, the city government said in a news release.
The city recommends that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings or while dining, shopping, and traveling. People who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and considered high-risk should avoid those activities altogether.
Vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks during those activities, the news release said.
“While the Delta variant has likely been circulating in our area for a while, we now have confirmation through sequencing that it is here,” said Desmar Walkes, MD, the health authority for Austin-Travis County.
“Disturbingly, we are now experiencing a rise in COVID hospitalizations that could overwhelm our city’s ICUs. Almost all these hospitalizations involve those who have not been vaccinated. This is a plea for people to become vaccinated, so we do not put our ICU capacity at risk,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in the news release.
But the Texas Tribune pointed out that the Stage 3 guidelines don’t carry the weight of law. Last May, Gov. Greg Abbott banned pandemic mandates.
MLB Game Postponed After 6 Yankees Test Positive
A Thursday game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees was postponed when six Yankee players tested positive for COVID-19, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, according to CNN.
"We have three positives, and we have three pending that we've had rapid tests on," Cashman said. The rapid tests are being confirmed with other tests, he said.
The three players with confirmed positive tests were all vaccinated, he said. In March, eight “breakthrough” cases were reported with the Yankees.