Just as the nation seemed like it was turning a corner in the pandemic, COVID-19 infections are on the rise once more, and it’s targeting a very specific population: Those who remain unvaccinated.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday, July 16 alone there were 33,000 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the seven day average ending July 16 to 23,600 — an increase of 70{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} from the previous two-week period.

Hospital admissions and deaths are also on the rise. There were 2,790 hospital admissions in the seven-day period ending July 16, an increase of 26{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} from the previous reporting period, while the seven-day average for daily deaths has increased by 26{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} to 211 per day.

Data published by USA Today shows that cases are rising in all 50 states, with some startling increases in certain areas. Rhode Island, for example, saw cases almost triple in a one-week period, with Maine and Vermont following closely behind. Massachusetts, Alaska and Kentucky have seen their cases more than double in that time, followed by Minnesota, Florida and Texas.

Cases are rising fastest in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nevada, all of which have low vaccination rates, according to Market Watch. In all four of those states, less than half of residents are fully vaccinated.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky during a news conference on Friday. “We are seeing outbreaks in cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk. And communities that are vaccinated are generally faring well.”

In broad geographic strokes, the South, Midwest and parts of the West are seeing the largest case increases, with the counties showing the highest increases sharing the common characteristic of having low vaccination rates.

“In January, we were averaging nearly 200,000 cases per day,” said Walenski. “From January to June, we made remarkable progress, where the counties with a high number of transmissions decreased. Now … you can see the recent growth in cases. So while we are in a better position than we were in January through April, this is giving us a reason to double down and get more people vaccinated.”

Of course, as viruses tend to do, the coronavirus has mutated into several different variants, with the Delta variant causing the most concern. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the answer to overcoming the challenge of new variants is the same as before: get vaccinated.

An estimated half of the population has been fully vaccinated.

“We are dealing with a formidable variant in the Delta variant, as reflected by the data, and the extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for hospitalizations and eventually death,” Fauci told CNN this week. “These vaccines continue the strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant.”

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients told CNN that four states in particular have shown some alarming numbers.

“Just four states accounted for more than 40{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of all cases in the past week, with one in five occurring in Florida alone,” said Zients. “Unvaccinated Americans account for almost all revent COVID hospitalizations and death.”

The four states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country are, in order: California, Texas, Florida and New York, according to statista.

Florida, Zients said, is telling cruise lines and other businesses that they can’t mandate passengers show proof of vaccinations status; Norwegian cruise lines is suing the state ove it, said Zients. Meanwhile, in California’s Los Angeles County and Nevada’s Clark County, mask mandates have returned for both indoor and outdoor settings.

“The good news is that if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re protected against severe COVID hospitalization and death, and even protected against known variants, including the Delta variant, circulating in this country,” said Walenski. “If you’re not vaccinated, you remain at risk, and our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

How the ongoing vaccination push plays out will determine how the country is able to respond to the latest surge, and will have implications for hospitals and health systems. 

The healthcare industry was rocked in 2020 by a surge in urgent care for coronavirus patients as well as large numbers of deferrals of routine care, which combined to hit hospitals and health systems in their wallets, hard. The median Kaufman Hall hospital operating margin index was -0.6{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} in January, not including federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding. With the funding, it was -0.1{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca}.

In May, the Biden Administration set a goal of getting 70{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of Americans vaccinated by July 4, but the country has fallen short of achieving that goal, threatening the idea of herd immunity, in which a critical mass of the population becomes incolulated and prevents widespread transmission of a pathogen.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem, with many Americans reluctant to get their shots or unwilling to do so. In May, a Sermo poll showed that more than 72{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of physicians surveyed said that patients continue to voice concerns over vaccine side effects. Still others have reported ongoing misinformation discouraging people from getting vaccines. And close to 30{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of physicians reported encountering patients who have skipped their second dose due to unpleasant side effects from the first dose, or concerns over side effects.

THE LARGER TREND

As of Monday, there were 190,595,607 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the world, including more than 34 million in the U.S., which leads the world. The U.S. also leads the world in virus-related deaths, with 609,023, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. 

India is second in the world in terms of cases, with more than 31 million, while Brazil comes in third at roughly 19.3 million. Brazil has recorded the second-highest number of deaths, at more than 542,000, while India has the third-highest death rate, with more than 414,000.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: [email protected]



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