Coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the United States have reached a six-month high, fuelled by the rapid spread of the Delta variant across swathes of the country grappling with low vaccination rates.
- Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas reported the most new cases per capita in the past week
- An annual motorcycle rally in South Dakota, blamed for a surge in cases last year, is going ahead as planned
- Florida has set records for hospitalisations for eight days in a row
Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have averaged 100,000 for three days in a row, up 35 per cent over the past week, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.
Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas reported the most new cases in the past week, based on population.
Hospitalisations rose 40 per cent and deaths, a lagging indicator, registered an 18 per cent uptick in the past week, with the most fatalities by population in Arkansas.
The intensifying spread of the pandemic has led to cancellation of some large high-profile events.
One notable exception is an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which has been proceeding as planned.
Florida set a new single-day record with 28,317 cases on Sunday, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospitalisations in Florida have been at record highs for eight days in a row, according to the Reuters analysis.
Most Florida students are due back in the classroom this week as some school districts debate whether to require masks for pupils.
Holding signs, both mask proponents and opponents gathered at the Pinellas County Schools building near St Petersburg on Monday, after the school board called a special session to discuss mask protocols.
The head of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union on Sunday announced a shift in course by backing mandated vaccinations for US teachers in an effort to protect students who are too young to be inoculated.
The number of children hospitalised with COVID-19 is rising across the country, a trend health experts attribute to the Delta variant being more likely to infect children than the original Alpha strain.
With the virus once again upending Americans’ lives after a brief summer lull, the push to vaccinate those still reluctant has gained fresh momentum.
Three states – California, New York and Virginia – as well as several cities have mandated vaccinations or weekly testing for state employees.
The Biden administration set new rules late last month requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.
The Pentagon on Monday said it would seek President Joe Biden’s approval by the middle of September to require military members to get vaccinated.
In the private sector, a growing number of companies are also mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. United Airlines, meatpacker Tyson Foods Inc and Microsoft are requiring employees to get vaccinated.
Motorcycle rally crowds
The evolving pandemic and the rapid community spread spurred by the Delta variant have already prompted the cancellation of some large-scale events.
Last week, organisers canceled the New York Auto Show that had been set for later this month.
The New Orleans Jazz Fest was canceled for the second straight year as Louisiana fights a severe outbreak.
But fears about the Delta variant seem to not have dampened the mood in Sturgis, a small town in South Dakota that annually welcomes hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
This year’s gathering, taking place on August 6 to 15, might already be attracting record crowds.
“It is one of the biggest crowds I have seen,” Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said in an email.
“I think there will definitely be some spread.”
The city of Sturgis has partnered with health officials to provide COVID-19 self-test kits to rally-goers but the event does not require proof of vaccination or mask-wearing.
Last year, health officials cited the rally as a super-spreader event that contributed to an autumn surge in the Midwest.
While cases and hospitalisations were relatively low in South Dakota when the event started on August 7, 2020, three months later the state set a record for hospitalised COVID-19 patients and new infections.
In the month of November alone, the state lost 521 people to COVID-19, nearly three times the number of deaths reported in October, according to a Reuters tally.