US leaders, health officials urge COVID jabs amid surge in cases

Cases, hospitalisations and deaths continue to rise even as vaccination rates increase, US officials say.

A 10-year-old child gets a swab test from a healthcare worker at a COVID-19 mobile testing site in Florida, one of several low vaccination states where the Delta variant is surging in the United States [Octavio Jones/Reuters]

With COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths rising across the United States over the past week – spurred largely by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant – leaders in several states are renewing their efforts to encourage residents to get jabs.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday urged businesses to turn away unvaccinated customers. “If you are unvaccinated, the Delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” Cuomo said during a briefing.

Transport workers in New York and hospital, nursing home, and jail employees in New Jersey will be required to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, governors in those states also have announced.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Denver, Colorado, said inoculations would be mandatory for the city’s 11,000 employees, while Louisiana will require masks indoors across the state starting on August 4.

A recent increase in coronavirus infections in the US, particularly in states with low vaccination rates, has prompted warnings from public health experts and calls for more Americans to get jabs, which are widely available in the country.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr Rochelle Walensky told reporters that as of July 31 there were 72,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the US. That is up from an average of 57,000 daily infections the prior week.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, warned on Sunday that the country was looking at “some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up”, adding that “the solution to this is get vaccinated”.

Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham announced on Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, has flu-like symptoms and will be self-quarantining for 10 days.

“I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse,” Graham, 66, wrote on Twitter.

The Republican, a leading conservative voice in the US Senate, said he began experiencing flu-like symptoms on July 31 and sought medical attention on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, as Florida grapples with an influx of hospital patients with the Delta variant, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week barring schools from requiring face coverings.

That is something the CDC had recommended last week alongside mask-wearing in indoor public spaces even for vaccinated Americans.

Florida has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation and about one-quarter of the country’s hospitalised COVID-19 patients, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Mary Mayhew, head of Florida’s hospital association, said the current surge sent COVID hospitalisations skyrocketing from 2,000 to 10,000 in less than 30 days, although deaths have remained well below the previous peak.

“We have 25-year-olds in the hospital in intensive care on ventilators,” Mayhew told US news outlet MSNBC on Monday, adding that at one Jacksonville hospital, the average age is 42.

One in three cases of COVID-19 across the US have been reported in Florida and Texas over the past week, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters.

He noted, as many other US public health officials have amid the recent surge in infections, that the cases were concentrated in communities with low vaccination rates.

Nevertheless, more people are getting their jabs. Zients said over the past few weeks there had been a nearly 70 percent increase in the average number of new people being vaccinated every day.

Three million Americans had received their first shot in the last seven days, and the country reached a milestone on Monday of 70 percent of adults having at least one vaccine shot.

“There are still about 90 million eligible Americans who are unvaccinated, and we need them to do their part,” Zients said.

The White House is working with states to encourage vaccinations using incentives, following President Joe Biden’s call last week for states to use federal funds to pay $100 to anyone who gets inoculated, Zients said.

He said the White House’s policy of urging all federal employees to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 tests was helping spur more workplaces to implement similar policies for their employees, adding that vaccination requirements to return to work or school were a growing trend.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies