PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – The number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 200 million on Wednesday amid a dismal spike in sickness and hospitalizations during the holiday season that has hit even New England, one of the country’s most infected corners.
The number of new cases in the United States rose from nearly 95,000 a day on November 22 to almost 119,000 a day this week, and hospital admissions are up 25% from a month ago. The increase is almost entirely due to the delta variant, although the omicron mutation has been found in about 20 states and will no doubt spread even more.
On average, about 1,600 people die per day, compared with October. And the total death toll in the United States in less than two years after the crisis could reach another heartbreaking milestone – 800,000 in a matter of days.
The situation is not nearly as dire as last year’s spike in vacation season before the population gained access to COVID-19 vaccines, but the 60% of the US population, which is fully vaccinated, was not enough to prevent hot spots.
Cold weather, Thanksgiving gatherings and large increases in vacation travel, along with population fatigue from pandemic restrictions, are believed to play a role.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University, compared the virus to wildfire.
“You can clear the bushes from the forest. But if you leave some bushes and trees standing, the fire will find them, ”said Gostin. “The virus will find you. He is looking for hosts who have no immunity. The fact that you live in New England or New York does not isolate you. “
Vaccine demand – with the recent approval of booster packs for all adults and vaccines for primary school children – has been strong amid the surge and the emergence of a variant of the omicron, whose dangers have not yet been fully understood. Pfizer said Wednesday that the first two injections of its vaccine were significantly less effective against the omicron, but the booster dose could provide important protection.
Nearly 48 million people have received boosters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White House officials said the US gave 12.5 million injections last week, the highest in a week since May.
“And this is critical progress as we enter winter and confront a new omicron variant,” said White House coronavirus advisor Jeffrey Zientes.
At the same time, some states, especially New England with a high vaccination rate and the Midwest, are grappling with some of the worst outbreaks since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals are filling up and responding by canceling non-urgent surgeries or taking other anti-crisis measures, while states are actively promoting boosters.
Despite one of the highest vaccination rates in the country – more than 74% of the population is fully vaccinated – Vermont is experiencing the largest spike in vaccinations. Over the past week, the number of new cases per day has increased by 54%, and the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 has increased by 18%.
The virus preys on those who have not been vaccinated: as of Tuesday, 90% of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care have not been vaccinated.
“Obviously, this is not where we want to be,” Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday, calling the situation “extremely disappointing.”
More than 400 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in New Hampshire earlier this week, breaking the record set last winter.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has directed hospitals to create COVID-19 “surgery centers” using space normally reserved for things like outpatient care.
“Every day for the next few weeks, we’re likely to see a new high of COVID hospitalizations in New Hampshire,” said Steve Anen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. “With over 1000 new cases a day, this number will not work, but will continue to grow.”
Maine is also struggling with record hospital admissions due to COVID-19. Gov. Janet Mills brought in 75 members of the National Guard on Wednesday.
“The vast majority of patients in our hospitals are not vaccinated. This is especially true for intensive care patients, ”said Andy Mueller, CEO of MaineHealth, the state’s largest healthcare network. “It takes a huge amount of our resources to help.”
Rhode Island’s largest hospital system, Lifespan, said staff shortages were at an unprecedented level of crisis, while Kent Hospital said it was almost full and was considering delaying non-urgent procedures.
Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, Kent’s interim president and chief operating officer, said the surge is likely due to “people loosened their guards” during the holidays, and the flu season could complicate matters further.
New Hampshire plans to host a blitz booster on Saturday at 15 locations. Most of the appointments were booked.
In Berlin, Vermont, Mike Labounty received a booster shot on Tuesday.
“I have friends in their 20s who are sick and friends in their 60s who are sick,” he said. “What you see on Facebook and the like is, ‘I just want this to end.’ I’m very sick, so I’m just trying to avoid it. “
Elsewhere in the country, Indiana, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have doubled in the past month and are approaching levels not seen since a year ago, before vaccines were widely available.
The number of people in intensive care in Minnesota reached its highest level during the pandemic, with 98% of intensive care beds occupied. Military medical teams dispatched to Michigan and New Mexico.
Associated Press correspondents Katie McCormack of Concord, New Hampshire; Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; and Wilson Ring and Lisa Rathke in Montpellier, Vermont contributed to this report. Reported by Taryn from Chicago.