The United States is now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections per day, returning to a milestone last seen during the winter surge as health officials urge people to get vaccinated to stem a surging spread of the Delta variant.
Across the country, 70.6 percent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccines, while 60.9 percent are considered fully inoculated, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
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But millions remain unvaccinated and a surge in infections has been recorded in states with low vaccination rates, such as Florida and Texas.
“Our models show that if we don’t [vaccinate people], we could be up to several hundred thousand cases a day, similar to our surge in early January,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on CNN this week.
It took the US about nine months to cross the 100,000 average case number in November before peaking at about 250,000 in early January. Cases bottomed out in June, averaging about 11,000 per day, but six weeks later the number is 107,143.
Hospitalisations and deaths are also increasing rapidly, though all are still below peaks seen early this year before vaccines became widely available across the country.
“The correlation between vaccination and hospitalisation is very stark. Health officials have weighted out that those who are vaccinated may still contract the virus, but the consequences are far less severe than they are for those who are not vaccinated,” Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reported from Washington, DC.
Hanna said the recent surge in infections has prompted some state governors who previously had not come out in support of vaccinations to change their minds, but major differences remain on mask mandates.
“The southern states, completely opposed to the wearing of masks. Other states, particularly in the east, now masks have become mandated again. So there’s a different way in dealing with this virus,” he said.
More than 44,000 Americans are currently hospitalised with COVID-19, according to the CDC, up 30 percent in a week and nearly four times the number who were hospitalised in June. More than 120,000 were hospitalised in January.
Health officials have warned for weeks that cases were mounting across the US, particularly in states with low vaccination rates.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and the White House’s chief medical adviser, said last week that “more pain and suffering” lay ahead – and once more called on Americans to get jabs, calling the rise in infections “an outbreak of the unvaccinated”.
“Things are going to get worse if you look at the acceleration of the number of cases, the seven-day average has gone up substantially,” Fauci said on August 1, explaining that some 100 million people who are eligible for COVID-19 jabs have not been inoculated.
This past week, Florida broke its own record for daily COVID-19 hospitalisations, and the state makes up more than 20 percent of the nation’s new cases and hospitalisations, triple its share of the population.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for re-election and eyeing a 2024 Republican presidential bid, has said he will not impose statewide mask mandates or other measures to stem the spread of the virus.
He and US President Joe Biden have verbally sparred in recent days, with DeSantis accusing Biden of wanting to steal Floridians’ “freedoms” and Biden urging DeSantis to “get out of the way” of local officials if he does not want to fight the outbreak.
Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky represent 41 percent of new hospitalisations in the US, the CDC says, twice their overall share of the population.
Dr David Persse, the chief medical officer in Houston, Texas, said some ambulances were waiting hours to offload patients at Houston-area hospitals because no beds were available. Persse said he feared this would lead to prolonged response times to 911 medical calls.
“The healthcare system right now is nearly at a breaking point,” Persse said on Thursday. “For the next three weeks or so, I see no relief on what’s happening in emergency departments.”