According to a top federal health official, the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus now accounts for 83 percent of all sequenced cases in the United States.
In Senate testimony, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated, “This is a dramatic increase, up from 50 percent [in] the week of July 4.”
Walensky also stated that Covid fatalities had increased by nearly 48 percent in the previous week, to an average of 239 per day.
“Each death is tragic, and it is even more heartbreaking to know that the vast majority of these deaths could have been avoided with a simple, safe, readily available vaccine,” she said.
A cluster of midwestern and southern states has emerged as the new Covid-19 hotspots. With less than half of the US population fully vaccinated, infection rates are among the highest – and vaccination rates are among the lowest – in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, with only 42.4 percent of its adult population fully vaccinated. Vermont has the highest proportion of fully vaccinated adults (77.3%).
In the last two weeks, the rate of infection in the United States has increased by 195%. Oklahoma had the highest increase during that time period, at 387 percent, followed by Louisiana and Mississippi, at 376 percent and 308 percent, respectively. The national vaccination campaign has slowed noticeably. The United States is administering 521,000 doses per day, an 85 percent decrease from a peak of 3.38 million doses per day in April.
“This is turning into a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” Walensky said last week. “We are seeing outbreaks of cases in areas of the country where vaccination coverage is low because unvaccinated people are at risk.” Communities that are fully vaccinated fare well in general.”
With the Biden administration falling short of its goal of providing at least one vaccine to 70% of adults by July 4, the rapid spread of the Delta variant poses a serious challenge to efforts to control the pandemic.
In addition to prioritizing speed, the administration is concentrating on distributing shots equitably to the hardest-hit communities.
The administration is working on outreach in communities with high vaccine hesitancy, as well as improving accessibility at doctors’ offices and workplaces, according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House coronavirus team. The average vaccination rate in the most socially vulnerable counties is lower than in the least vulnerable. The majority of the poorest counties are in the south.
“The people who have not yet been vaccinated are a very diverse group,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
“It’s easy to portray it as… a political slant, but vaccination rates are higher, for example, in the elderly, and this is true regardless of political leaning.”
The counties with the highest vaccination rates and lowest vulnerability are in the Midwest and Northeast. On Capitol Hill, there is also disagreement about the role of the National Institutes of Health in funding controversial research in Wuhan, China.
Senator Rand Paul accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, of previously lying to Congress about his knowledge of how the Wuhan lab used NIH funds during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. He cited an academic paper that purportedly shows the lab was working on “potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in the lab, not in nature.”
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about,” Fauci said, adding, “I totally resent the lie you are now propagating.” Fauci maintains that it is molecularly impossible that SARS-CoV-2 was caused by NIH-funded research.
Despite a national increase in infections, the United States is in significantly better shape than at any previous point in the pandemic. Death rates have remained near their lowest levels since last spring, and hospitalization rates are significantly lower than the winter peak.