New cases of Covid-19 are on the rise in a number of US states, worrisome health officials and epidemiologists as many Americans are unvaccinated and the highly transmissible Delta strain is spreading.
The US averages more than 23,000 new cases per day, double the seven-day average of about 11,300 cases three weeks ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. On 17 of the past 18 days, the seven-day case average was higher than the 14-day average, also suggesting that the number of cases has been rising nationwide.
The rebound follows a significant slowdown in Covid-19 statistics after a deadly winter wave, when newly reported cases peaked at about 240,000 cases per day in mid-January, and it comes as public health officials are pushing for the revival of the country’s vaccination campaign and get pictures to undecided or isolated Americans.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all recent Covid-19 cases and deaths from the disease have been among unvaccinated people. Americans 65 and older, who are most likely to die from Covid-19 infections, have high vaccination rates.
In Los Angeles County, the country’s most populous new cases recently surpassed 1,000 for three consecutive days, the first time in months that this has happened, according to data from the county’s Department of Health.
Health officials there said Covid-19 transmission is increasing among younger, unvaccinated individuals. Of the 1,094 new cases reported Saturday, 83% were under the age of 50, according to the public health department. The department also blamed the spread on increased interaction, summer socialization and new variants of concern, like Delta, which was first discovered in India.
Now dominant in the US, the Delta variant thought to be about 50% more contagious than the alpha variant first discovered in the UK late last year and linked to a wave of infections in multiple countries.
“As the cases increase, the urgency to get more people vaccinated increases. Nearly 100% of new cases are among those who are not fully vaccinated,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA County director of public health.
According to data from Johns Hopkins, there is a noticeable increase in cases across the country, from California, New York and Florida to Alaska, Utah and Alabama.
Hospital admissions in the US also have: started ticking higher. Currently, the seven-day average is around 13,200, according to CDC data, down from a recent low of around 12,000 at the end of June. Current levels are far from the peak of the January pandemic, when nearly 125,000 people were hospitalized.
According to Johns Hopkins data, the number of deaths, a lagging indicator, remains relatively low, at a seven-day average of 255. High vaccination rates among older Americans have contributed to the number of deaths lower from past highlights.
Vikas Parekh, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, said the same decline in Covid-19 cases is being seen around the world. He cited the emergence of the Delta variant in the US and the “return to normal” behavior in recent months before the increased infections.
“As for what can be done to keep the number of cases down, the formula remains the same: vaccination and some degree of behavioral change to reduce the risk of transmission,” said Dr. parekh.
In Missouri, the Delta variant has led to a wave of new cases for weeks.
“I wish I could be here today with more encouraging news, but the numbers are too shocking to ignore,” St. Louis County’s Sam Page said Monday.
Mr Page said the number of new infections in the province was up 63% in just two weeks. “The tidal wave is hitting our unvaccinated population,” he said.
Months after Covid-19 recordings were made available to all U.S. adults, national data shows that a delay in vaccination uptake, a development that some epidemiologists and public health officials are concerned about, could lead to a further rise in infections and possibly deaths this summer, although the effectiveness of Covid-19 treatments for people infected has increased significantly.
Overall, 58.8% of US adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, accounting for more than 152 million residents, according to CDC data. But the number of vaccinations has slowed down, and regional numbers vary on a large scale. The number of vaccine doses administered each day has fallen from more than three million in April to a seven-day average of about 420,000 on July 7.
Epidemiologists have long warned that low vaccination coverage, coupled with increased travel, reduced masking and social distancing requirements, and new, more transmissible strains could lead to localized outbreaks of Covid-19 this summer.
Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor and epidemiologist of infectious diseases at George Mason University, attributed the rise to the lifting of mask requirements and a growing sense of complacency.
“For the most part, people seem to feel like Covid is over.” she said.
Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden and the country’s top infectious disease expert, said local health officials should be free to mandate indoor masks in high-spread and low-vaccination areas.
“The CDC recommendation not to wear a mask is a broad, general recommendation for the entire country,” said Dr. Fauci. “Some places have high levels, so some local authorities may tell you to wear masks.”
In many parts of the south, vaccination rates are stubbornly low. Of the 10 states with the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated adults, seven are in Southern states. At the bottom of the list is Alabama, where 42% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Distrust is one of the reasons why vaccination hasn’t caught on, officials said.
“The vaccine rollout has always been a race against the variants,” said Ajay Sethi, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The Delta strain is the most contagious to date, and there are parts of the country where too many people are still unvaccinated and mistakenly believe the pandemic is over.”
Write to Talal Ansari on [email protected]
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