Facing new variants and a limited number of vaccines, some countries are approaching 100 percent ICU capacity.
The coronavirus infections curve in the United States is rising again after months of decline, with the number of new cases per day doubling over the past three weeks, driven by the fast-spreading Delta variant, lagging vaccination rates and Fourth of July gatherings.
Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, new daily infections in the US have doubled over the past two weeks to an average of about 24,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Deaths linked to the coronavirus are still on a downward trajectory at around 260 a day.
“It is certainly no coincidence that we are looking at exactly the time that we would expect cases to be occurring after the July Fourth weekend,” said Dr Bill Powderly, co-director of the infectious-disease division at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St Louis.
At the same time, parts of the country are running up against widespread vaccine resistance, while the highly contagious version of the coronavirus that was first detected in India is accounting for an ever-larger share of infections.
Nationally, 67.7 percent of American adults have received at least one COVID-19 jab, according to data from the CDC. The five states with the largest, two-week jump in cases per capita all had lower vaccination rates.
But even with the latest surge, cases in the US are nowhere near their peak of 250,000 per day that was recorded in January – a testament to how effectively vaccines can prevent serious illness and death in those who become infected.
Still, the rise has prompted health authorities in places such as Los Angeles County and St Louis to urge residents, including those who have been vaccinated, to resume wearing masks in public.
Officials in the city of Chicago announced on Tuesday that unvaccinated travellers from Missouri and Arkansas must either quarantine for 10 days or have a negative COVID-19 test, while the health department in Mississippi, which ranks last for vaccinations, began blocking COVID-19 posts on its Facebook page amid a “rise of misinformation” about the virus and the vaccine.
US President Joe Biden, who had set the goal of getting 70 percent of US adults vaccinated by July 4, is trying to get more young people vaccinated. Eighteen-year-old actress, singer and songwriter Olivia Rodrigo will meet with Biden and Dr Anthony Fauci on Wednesday.
The administration has had success vaccinating older Americans, but young adults have shown less urgency to get the jabs.
Meanwhile, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday said that Mexico, as well as several countries in Central and South America – where vaccination rates are markedly lower than in the US – are all seeing a rise in new infections.
“While new cases are down nearly 20 percent from last week, many countries – including the United States – are seeing a resurgence of infections,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said during a weekly news briefing.
She said the Americas region reported nearly 74 million cases and 1.9 million deaths from COVID-19 over the past week, making up for more than a third of COVID cases worldwide and more than 40 percent of reported deaths.
“Cases rise when complacency sets in,” Etienne said. “We are all tired, but after experiencing successive peaks of infections in the same locations, we must break this cycle by embracing public health measures early and consistently.”
Cases rise ⬆️ when complacency sets in. We are all tired, but after experiencing successive peaks of infections in the same locations, we must break this cycle ♻ by embracing public health measures 😷 early and consistently. @DirOPSPAHO #COVID19
— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) July 14, 2021
On Tuesday, a coalition of seven organisations representing medical professionals said hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the US should require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“By requiring vaccination as a condition of employment we raise levels of vaccination for healthcare personnel, improve protection of our patients, and aid in reaching community protection,” said David Weber, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and lead author of the statement.
“As healthcare personnel, we’re committed to these goals,” he said.
The statement was organised by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) and signed by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and five other groups. It followed an eight-week review of evidence on the three vaccines authorised for use in the US, vaccination rates and employment law.