'Pandemic of the unvaccinated': COVID-19 deaths up 26% over previous week in U.S.
Florida accounts for 1 in 5 new cases the past week, as officials focus on young-adult vaccination
The delta variant of COVID-19 is now the dominant strain worldwide and is driving a surge of deaths around the United States, almost entirely among unvaccinated people, U.S. officials said Friday.
Cases of COVID-19 are up 70 per cent over the previous week and deaths are up 26 per cent, with most of the surge occurring in counties with below average vaccination rates, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky said during a news briefing.
"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Walensky said, adding that 97 per cent of people entering hospitals in the United States with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
According to the officials, four states account for 40 per cent of the rise in cases, with Florida alone accounting for one in every five new national cases over the past week.
Along with Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Nevada were cited as states that have seen significant increases in cases.
White House coronavirus co-ordinator Jeff Zients said the U.S. has adequate supply for booster shots "if and when" their deployment is needed, but that the focus now is on persuading the still-hesitant to protect themselves and their families. On a positive note, Zients said around five million people have been vaccinated in the country in the past 10 days, including many in states that so far have had lower vaccination rates.
At present, per CDC statistics, 65.2 per cent of the eligible population over 12 has received at least one shot, with 56.5 per cent fully vaccinated, but there is great variation across the 50 states.
U.S. officials are emphasizing young adults in their targeted vaccination messaging who they say are more frequently hospitalized than earlier in the pandemic. The White House brought in teen pop star Olivia Rodrigo to the White House earlier this week for some public service spots.
By contrast, 79.3 per cent of Americans over 65 are fully vaccinated, with the one-shot measurement nine percentage points higher.
L.A. County brings back indoor mask mandate
Officials at state and local levels are reconsidering the extent of mask usage, most notably Los Angeles County in an announcement late Thursday.
The county, home to 10 million people and the nation's second-largest city, Los Angeles, is one of several jurisdictions to recommend or mandate wearing masks or other pandemic restrictions in recent days as cases rise to worrisome levels in many parts of the United States.
"We're requiring masking for everyone while indoors at public settings and businesses, regardless of vaccination status so that we can stop the increased level of transmission we're seeing," the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said on Twitter Thursday.
The mandate will go into effect Saturday night at a minute before midnight, the agency said.
The announcement follows six straight days of more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Los Angeles County, with nearly 400 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, up 275 from the week before. Nine new COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
More than 1,500 new infections were reported on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Sacramento and Fresno counties in California recommended that masks be worn indoors even by people who are vaccinated. Officials in Austin, Tex., on Thursday urged people who are not vaccinated or are otherwise high-risk to avoid travel, indoor gatherings, dining out and shopping, and to wear masks.
Earlier this week, Yolo County in California also recommended indoor masking, and in Springfield, Mo., children and teachers have been required to wear masks during summer school.
Masks on mass transit still necessary: CDC official
Despite the trends, a group of Republican lawmakers this week introduced legislation to prohibit mask mandates for public transport, arguing they no longer make sense with a growing number of Americans getting vaccinated. Arizona congressman Andy Biggs said transit mask rules "are only being kept in place by those who relish controlling our day-to-day lives."
In mid-May, CDC said fully vaccinated people could avoid wearing masks indoors in most places – with some exceptions like transit.
A senior U.S. health official who signed a sweeping order for masks to be worn on nearly all forms of public transport said they have been a a key tool in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
Marty Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told Reuters on Thursday that the agency's "current position" is that the mandate should not be lifted.
"Masks are really powerful and we should make sure they're part of our arsenal," Cetron said in an interview. "We mask not just to protect ourselves – we mask because it's the way we take care and express our concern for each other."
The rules in place since January require masks to be worn by all travellers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares and at transport hubs like airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations and ports.
The mask mandate has been a huge source of friction on U.S. airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that since Jan. 1, it has received 3,420 unruly passenger reports, including 2,559 for refusing to wear masks.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said July 11 was the single-busiest day since February 2020, with nearly 2.2 million passengers.
"I get we're all just over this emotionally but I do think we will succeed together if we realize the virus is the enemy and it's not your fellow citizen or the person sitting next to you on a plane or a piece of cloth that you have to wear over your face," Cetron said.
The CDC transit mask order has no expiration date. In April, the TSA extended its mask requirement until Sept. 13.
Under Donald Trump's administration, a CDC push to mandate masks in transit was blocked.