By Heather Hollingsworth, Kathy Busevitz and Colleen Long | The Associated Press
COVID-19 deaths and cases in the US have climbed back to where they were in the winter, eroding months of progress and potentially reinforcing President Joe Biden’s argument for his sweeping new vaccination requirements.
Cases driven by the Delta variant combined with resistance to vaccination among some Americans – mostly concentrated in the South.
While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are rising in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now in school, loosened mask restrictions and low vaccination levels.
The dire situation in some hospitals is beginning to look like the peak of January’s infections: surgeries were canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Serious staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. Lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or above capacity in Texas.
The deteriorating picture nine months into the country’s vaccination campaign has angered and dismayed medical professionals, who believe heartbreak is preventable. Most of the dead and hospitalized have not been vaccinated. This has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.
“The problem now is that we are trying to educate based on science, but I think the education that is happening now is based on tragedy, personal tragedy,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton said.
The governor said that in Kentucky, 70% of the state’s hospitals — 66 of the 96 — are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level yet during the pandemic.
“Our hospitals are on the verge of collapse in many communities,” said Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack.
The US averages more than 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels since early March and late January, respectively. And both figures have been rising over the past two weeks.
The nation is distributing around 900,000 shots of the vaccine per day, well below the peak of 3.4 million per day in mid-April. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the US should begin distributing booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to protect people.
On a positive note, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 now appears to be around 90,000, or even declining to the level of where things stood in February.
The US outbreak in January averaged about 3,400 deaths and topped a quarter-million cases per day. He was just weeks into the country’s vaccination campaign. There was a sharp decline after expanding in the spring before crawling back with the rise of the more contagious delta variant.
Last week, the president ordered all employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure that affects nearly 80 million Americans. And the nearly 17 million workers in health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid must also be fully vaccinated.
“We read and hear about it and we see stories of people hospitalized, people who have died without vaccinations in the past few weeks,” Biden said in announcing the rules. “This is an epidemic of the uneducated.”
The requirements have been met with resistance and threats from Republican lawsuits.
Stanton, an ER doctor in Kentucky, said he has admitted families where the delta variant has been flowing for generations, especially if older members are unrelated.
“Now in Kentucky, a third of new cases are under the age of 18,” he said. Some kids brought it home from summer camp and spread it to the rest of the family, and now, “between day care and schools and school activities, and friends getting together, there’s just so much exposure.”
In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients fill intensive care units, and hospital staff at one facility contacted 43 other hospitals in three states to find a specialized cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin Demonia. It was not fast enough. The 73-year-old died on 1 September and his family filed a petition in his obituary.
“In honor of Ray, if you haven’t in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies, please get vaccinated,” his obituary read.
In Hidalgo County, Texas, along the Mexican border, about 50 patients were in hospital with COVID-19 on a given day in July. By early August, that number had grown to over 600.
“Back in July we were almost celebrating. We knew very little,” said Ivan Melendez, the public health authority for Hidalgo County. Melendez said the situation had improved somewhat, with just under 300 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, but the ICU is still above 90%.
“We haven’t turned the corner,” Melendez said. “Double digit, double digits of people dying every day.”
Lynsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said the biggest jump in the summer occurred in states that had lower vaccination rates, especially in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and breathing air. are.
In the colder months, states with low vaccination rates, especially in the Midwest, are likely to move north.
“We’re just climbing to the summit, but I don’t think it’s going to come all the way back down,” Mara said. “I think it’s going to be on a simmering level as it works its way through the uneducated population in other states. And it will work in the north because in winter, people are warming up and then you have to air indoors.” gets the same issue of re-airing.”
Vaccination rates are not as low as in some northern states, but “there are still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. Delta is going to find them,” Marr said.
And who is vaccinated is still unclear. Mr Amarnath said his father had fallen ill during a business trip to Georgia just before his August 31 retirement and had to miss his last day of work and retirement festivities.
After being symptom-free for 48 hours, the family left for a lake house in Tennessee. Everyone was vaccinated. But during the yatra, the health of Amarnath’s mother started deteriorating and now her report has come positive.
Amarnath, who lives in Indianapolis, said everyone else is in quarantine and plans to get tested or retire.
“Everyone is kind of on alert, waiting to see who’s next,” she said.