The number of COVID-19 deaths and cases in the United States has returned to winter levels, erasing months of progress, and may support President Joe Biden’s argument for full implementation of the new vaccination requirements.
These cases-driven by delta variants and the resistance of some Americans to vaccination-are mainly concentrated in the South.
Although disposable hotspots such as Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee are soaring because children are now returning to school, mask restrictions are loosened, and vaccination levels are low.
The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like a peak of infection in January: hospitals in Washington and Utah canceled operations. There is a severe shortage of employees in Kentucky and Alabama. Tennessee lacks beds. The capacity of the intensive care unit in Texas meets or exceeds capacity.
The deteriorating situation nine months after the national vaccination campaign angered and frustrated medical professionals who believed that heartbreak could be prevented. The vast majority of the dead and hospitalized were not vaccinated.
The governor said that in Kentucky, 70% of the state’s hospitals (66 out of 96) reported severe staff shortages, the highest level during the pandemic.
“Our hospitals are on the brink of collapse in many communities,” said Dr. Steven Stark, Kentucky Commissioner of Public Health.
There are an average of more than 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases in the United States every day, the highest levels since the beginning of March and the end of January, respectively. Both figures have been rising in the past two weeks.
The country distributes about 900,000 doses of vaccines every day, well below the peak of 3.4 million doses per day in mid-April. On Friday, an advisory group from the Food and Drug Administration will meet to discuss whether the United States should start distributing booster shots of Pfizer vaccine to enhance people’s protection.
On the positive side, the number of COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized seems to have stabilized, even dropping to around 90,000, or similar to the situation in February.
The epidemic in the United States reached its peak in January, with an average of 3,400 deaths and 250,000 cases per day. Those were the weeks of the national vaccination campaign. What followed was a sharp decline, extending into the spring, and then slowly picking up as the more contagious variant of the delta rose.
Last week, the President ordered all employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure that affected approximately 80 million Americans. Approximately 17 million workers in medical institutions receiving Medicare or Medicaid must also be fully vaccinated.
The new rules were resisted by Republicans and threatened by lawsuits.
Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room doctor in Lexington, Kentucky, said that he has accepted families where the delta variant has swept through generations, especially when older members have not been vaccinated.
“Now in Kentucky, one-third of new cases are under 18 years of age,” he said. Some children are brought home from summer camps and spread to their families. Now, “There is so much exposure between nurseries, schools and school activities, and between friends gatherings.”
In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients were admitted to the intensive care unit, and hospital staff in one facility contacted 43 other hospitals in three states to find a dedicated cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin DeMonia . The speed is not fast enough. The 73-year-old passed away on September 1. His family pleaded guilty in his obituary.
His obituary read: “In memory of Ray, if you are not vaccinated, please get vaccinated to free up resources for emergencies not related to COVID.”
In Hidalgo County, Texas, on the Mexican border, about 50 patients were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on one day in July. By early August, this number had soared to more than 600.
“As early as July, we were about to celebrate. We hardly knew,” said Ivan Melendez, the public health authority in Hidalgo County. Melendez said the situation has improved. On Monday, fewer than 300 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19, but the capacity of the ICU is still above 90%.
“We haven’t turned the corner yet,” Melendez said. “Double-digit people, double-digit people are dying every day.”
Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said the biggest surge in summer occurred in states with low vaccination rates, especially in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and breathe circulating air.
Entering the colder months, the northern states with lower vaccination rates, especially the Midwest, may see an increase.
“We are reaching the peak now, but I don’t think it will fall all the way back,” Marr said. “I think it will stay at a brewing level because it will work in unvaccinated people in other states. It will move north because in winter, people are heating, and then you will encounter the same indoor air Circulation problem.”
Vaccination rates in some northern states are not low, but “there are still many unvaccinated people. Delta will find them,” Marr said.
The person who was vaccinated is still unclear. Shri Amarnath said that her father fell ill during a business trip to Georgia before retiring on August 31 and had to miss his last day of work and retirement celebrations.
After he was asymptomatic for 48 hours, the whole family went to a lakeside villa in Tennessee. Everyone is vaccinated. But Amarnath’s mother started to feel unwell during the trip and now tested positive.
Amaranth, who lives in Indianapolis, said the others are in isolation and plan to be tested or retested.
“Everyone seems to be on alert, waiting to see who is next,” she said.
Associated Press writers Ken Sweet and Tali Arbel contributed to this report.
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