Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that the rise of the delta variant in the United States, while expected, has been “troubling.”
The CDC says the highly transmissible variant, first identified in India, is now the dominant strain in the U.S, making up 51.7% of all new infections. In some pockets of the country, such as the Midwest and upper Mountain States, that number is closer to 80%, Walensky said at a news conference.
Overall, 31 states had more new infections in the latest week than the week before, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Because the authorized vaccines largely protect against hospitalization and death from the delta variant, this trend has largely been driven in unvaccinated populations, she said. On Thursday, new research from France reiterated previous findings that the vaccines are effective against delta.
Cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. have risen by nearly 11% and 7%, respectively, in the past week while deaths have declined by 13%, according to CDC data.
“On the one hand we have seen the success of our vaccination programs over the last eight months … and yet on the other hand we are starting to see some new and concerning trends,” she said.
The day before her comments, the global death toll from the coronavirus hit 4 million as the surge in variant cases threatens to overtake progress from the vaccines, which are not widely available in many parts of the world.
According to a new study released by Yale University and the Commonwealth Fund, the United States’ vaccination program has prevented about 279,000 additional deaths and up to 1.25 million additional hospitalizations. Nearly 48% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Also in the news:
►A booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech extends protection significantly, a new study from the companies shows, and they are developing a vaccine targeted directly at the delta variant.
►Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the U.S., is requiring all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help stop the spread. and protect patients, staff and their communities. Trinity is one of the first hospital groups to mandate vaccinations.
►Colorado Gov. Jared Polis lifted his pandemic state of emergency Thursday and rescinded all related executive orders, citing the state’s progress in combating the coronavirus. More than 70% of adults in Colorado have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
►The first round of winners in Illinois’ vaccine lottery were selected Thursday, and one person in Chicago claimed the $1 million cash prize while three other people won $150,000 scholarships, the governor’s office said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 606,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 185.3 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. More than 158.2 million Americans – 47.7% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: The pandemic upended parents’ relationships with school, but when learning moved online, parents also got a front-row seat to daily classroom life, providing many an unprecedented opportunity to partake in their children’s education. Nearly 2 in 3 parents of school-age children became more engaged than ever before in their kids’ learning, and roughly 8 in 10 respondents said the pandemic opened their eyes to the inner workings of America’s schools, a new study showed. Read more here.
Study: Full vaccination protects from delta, but natural immunity less so
Full vaccination offers robust protection from the delta variant, underscoring the importance of global inoculation, according to lab tests conducted by researchers at France’s Pasteur Institute.
The new study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, found a single dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines “barely inhibited” the delta variant. However, a second dose “generated a neutralizing response in 95% of individuals,” even if it was a little less potent than against earlier versions of the virus.
The researchers also found that immune response from people who had previously been infected with the coronavirus was four times weaker against the delta variant. But a single vaccine dose dramatically boosted their antibody levels, sparking protection against the delta variant and two other mutants. That supports public health recommendations that COVID-19 survivors get vaccinated rather than relying on natural immunity.
COVID-19 vaccination gap by political affiliation getting bigger
America’s vaccination polarization continues to grow.
It has been clear for some time that people who voted for Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election are more likely to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than those who chose then-President Donald Trump, a Republican.
A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis indicates the gap is only getting larger. Based on data from the CDC and the election results by county, the KFF found the share of the fully vaccinated population had increased for voters from both sides, but more so in counties that opted for Biden.
“Three months ago, as of April 22, the average vaccination rate in counties that voted for Trump was 20.6% compared to 22.8% in Biden counties, yielding a relatively small gap of 2.2 percentage points,” the KFF says on its website. “By May 11, the gap had increased to 6.5%, and by July 6, 11.7%, with the average vaccination rate in Trump counties at 35% compared to 46.7% in Biden counties.”
Most of the country’s lowest vaccination rates are in Republican-leaning states, especially in the South, leaving their populations at risk for the virus, especially the highly transmissible delta variant.
Genetics may explain different COVID outcomes in similar people
Genetics may help explain why two people in similar circumstances could have such widely different responses to contracting the coronavirus, a new study says.
“The human genome, and not only the viral genome, matters,” said Andrea Ganna, one of the lead authors of the study. “Clearly, there is a role of genetics in COVID severity … it’s one of the many risk factors.”
Ganna said genetics may play an even bigger role in younger people, who are less likely to endure severe health problems from COVID.
– Karen Weintraub
Tokyo Olympics to be held without fans amid COVID state of emergency
There will be no fans at the Tokyo Olympics, organizers said Thursday following the declaration of a new state of emergency in the host city.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the state of emergency for Tokyo is to take effect Monday and last through Aug. 22. The Games begin July 23 and end Aug. 8.
“The priority will be to determine safe and secure Games,” Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said at a news conference following a meeting with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the government of Japan, the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee.
Organizers had previously announced that foreign spectators would not be allowed at the Games, but until Thursday there was still hope Japanese fans could attend venues at partial capacity.
– Nancy Armour
States spend millions on lotteries to encourage vaccines. Is it working?
As COVID-19 vaccination rates fall, several states have spent millions of dollars on lottery prizes to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get their shots. However, public health experts say while lotteries may nudge some people to get vaccinated, most won’t be convinced.
The small chance of winning a big windfall isn’t enough to sway the majority of unvaccinated Americans who strongly oppose the vaccine, have safety concerns or don’t want their daily lives disrupted by the vaccine’s side effects, they said.
“For certain segments of the population, (lotteries) can be useful,” said Robert Bednarczyk, associate professor of global health and epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. “But it really comes down to, who are you trying to reach and how can you reach them.”
Some states already have declared their vaccination lotteries a success, including California and Ohio. But researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found Ohio’s lottery did not increase COVID-19 vaccination rates when compared to other states without lottery-based incentive systems, according to the study published Friday in JAMA Network.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Despite worst-ever worker shortages, college grads struggle to find jobs
Millions of newly minted college graduates are looking for work after a year of virtual classes and the loss of an on-campus experience. And while U.S. businesses coping with the direst labor shortages on record need millions of workers, college students who graduated in May are having a hard time finding jobs.
Part of the struggle is driven by competition with both 2020 grads who deferred their job searches during the pandemic and the millions of Americans laid off in the health crisis, experts say. And many of the openings employers are scrambling to fill are lower-wage positions college grads aren’t seeking.
– Paul Davidson
Federal surge response team heading to hard-hit southwest Missouri
The Biden administration will send a COVID-19 surge response team to provide public health support in southwest Missouri, CNN reported Wednesday.
The “surge response teams,” announced in a White House press conference last week, will be dispatched to emerging COVID-19 hotspots around the country, where vaccination rates remain low. They’ll aim to boost testing and vaccination rates, as well as track down and treat those who have fallen ill from the virus.
Hospital leaders said Tuesday that the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Springfield, Missouri, has tripled in the last month.
“99.5% of COVID deaths over a 6 month period are unvaccinated,” tweeted Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer of Mercy Springfield. “So if you’re vaccinated there is a light at the end of a tunnel. If you’re unvaccinated that’s probably a train.”
With low vaccination rates in southwest Missouri and the highly infectious delta variant of the virus taking hold, the situation is expected to get worse.
– Galen Bacharier and Harrison Keegan, Springfield News-Leader
Contributing: The Associated Press.