As COVID-19 cases surge, some hospitals across the country are raising the alarm over hospitalization rates that may push facilities to capacity.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus in the U.S. has more than tripled over the past month, from an average of roughly 12,000 to almost 43,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The delta variant is ripping through the unvaccinated,” Mary Mayhew, CEO of Florida Hospital Association said. Hospitals in Jacksonville and Orlando last week crashed through their pandemic peaks, and hospitals in Miami-Dade County are at or approaching record coronavirus hospitalizations this week, Mayhew said.
In Texas, hospitals are bracing for another surge of the virus, as over 5,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported on Thursday, up from 3,566 a week earlier, the Texas Tribune reported. In Houston, hospital emergency rooms are operating at or above capacity, with one hospital saying they’re treating patients in hallways and waiting rooms, according to ABC 13.
“Right now, if you’re not on death’s door with the most critical situation … very high likelihood you’ll have to wait in our waiting room,” the station quotes Harris Health System’s Matthew Schlueter.
Pediatric hospitals may face a crisis too as cases also increase among children, health officials warn. Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said children’s hospitals in some areas of the country are filling up quickly. The Tennessee Department of Health projects the state’s children’s hospitals are on pace to be completely full by the end of next week.
For those 12 and up, vaccines continue to provide strong protection against hospitalization. In the nation’s most populous county, unvaccinated people have a risk of hospitalization that is now 19 times greater than vaccinated people, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Also in the news:
►The U.S. is now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, returning to a milestone last seen during the winter surge.
►U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas has tested positive for COVID-19, her office confirmed Friday. The congresswoman, who is vaccinated, said she had only mild symptoms and is isolating at home, where she was already recovering from outpatient surgery.
►As the delta variant throws a curveball in the world’s pandemic recovery plans, health experts say travel can be risky, forcing families to weigh the risks of summer travel with their unvaccinated children themselves.
►Starting Monday, Amazon will be requiring all of its 900,000 U.S. warehouse workers to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, following in the steps of other retailers that have imposed mask mandates for employees.
►United Airlines and Frontier Airlines updated their employee vaccine policies Friday, joining a growing number of big corporations that are responding to a surge in virus cases. Both airlines are asking employees to be fully vaccinated by October.
►Norwegian Cruise Line asked a federal judge Friday to block Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “vaccine passport” ban, a Florida law prohibiting cruise companies from demanding that passengers show written proof of coronavirus vaccination before they board a ship.
► More than 11 million Californians who get their insurance through Medicaid will be offered a $50 incentive to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the state announced Friday.
►Students are asking the Supreme Court to block a plan by Indiana University to require that all students and faculty members be fully vaccinated in order to return to campus. It’s the first case where the Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in on vaccine mandates.
► The San Francisco sheriff deputies’ union said “a percentage” of the more than 160 employees it represents are rejecting getting the vaccine, and will quit or retire early if forced to do so. The city mandated that its employees working in jails and other high-risk settings are required to be vaccinated by Sept. 15 or risk losing their jobs.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 616,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 201.9 million cases and 4.2 million deaths. More than 165.9 million Americans – 50% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll’s brother is one of the many Americans who says he won’t get vaccinated. She asked him why, and wrote about the frank conversation they had on vaccine safety. Read the full story.
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Study: Unvaccinated people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 reinfection
A new CDC study released Friday found that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 before are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with the virus compared to people who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus.
The study included hundreds of Kentucky residents with previous COVID-19 infections from May through June 2021. It found that those who were unvaccinated were 2.34 times more likely to be reinfected compared with those who were fully vaccinated.
The study’s findings suggest that getting fully vaccinated provides additional protection against reinfection and that vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone.
Researchers also noted “the emergence of new variants might affect the duration of infection-acquired immunity.”
“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”
– Christine Fernando, USA TODAY
Florida reports worst week for new COVID-19 cases
Florida just reported its worst week ever for new cases during the pandemic, with two of every five Florida counties setting all-time COVID-19 case count records on Friday.
Across the United States, about 73 counties or communities had all-time records for coronavirus cases in a week: they included 27 out of Florida’s 67 counties. The state’s more populous counties, which also were the largest counties that broke records, each has more than 1 million people.
Florida’s newest report lists 175 deaths in the last week, but the state’s tally actually shows 616 more deaths in the state’s total than were in last week’s report. That means a Floridian dies every 16 minutes, about half the pace of the state’s worst week. That pace has nearly quadrupled from mid-July.
With Florida’s Friday count compared to other states’ Thursday tallies, Florida ranks behind only Louisiana in per-capita new infections per week.
– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
Half of Americans are now fully vaccinated, CDC reports
The U.S. reached a key milestone in its fight against COVID-19 on Friday, with half of Americans now fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 165.9 million Americans, or 50% of the population of all ages, are fully vaccinated, with 193.7 million having received at least one dose as of Friday.
The increase in vaccinations comes as the country sees a spike in cases due to the highly-contagious delta variant, which experts say accounts for about 80% of new cases. White House officials have said they believe the uptick in people headed to get inoculated is because the states hardest hit by the virus are seeing how the delta variant poses a greater risk.
“Clearly, Americans are seeing the impact of being unvaccinated and unprotected,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing on Thursday. “And they responded by doing their part, rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated.”
Head of Olympic advisory panel declares ‘safe and secure Games’
The head of an expert group that advised Tokyo Olympic organizers on coronavirus prevention measures touted their efforts for controlling the spread of the virus during the Games.
With one day to go in these Olympics, organizers announced 22 new cases to bring the total to 404 from pre-Games and airport testing and screening testing since July 1.
“What Tokyo has just done in a historic way is prove that that advice is the right advice,” Brian McCloskey, who led the advisory panel, said. “And by following basic public health measures and by layering on top of that the testing program, we have shown it is possible to keep the pandemic at bay.”
McCloskey said the group’s review of the data will continue after the Olympics and that it will release a report in the future. Specifically, the group is looking at cases among country delegations upon returning home as well as cases in Japan. Read more.
– Rachel Axon, USA TODAY
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota raises COVID worries again
Bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts are descending upon South Dakota’s Black Hills this weekend for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, again raising concerns that COVID-19 will rapidly spread among the hundreds-of-thousands expected at the event.
Sturgis officials said the rally offers attendees access to coronavirus tests, face masks and hand sanitizer stations, in addition to doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, according to The New York Times. And the city has also allowed rallygoers to drink on public property, with the hope of preventing indoor crowding.
Some experts say it’s a recipe for a super-spreader event. Last year’s was traced to 649 virus cases across the country, but some estimates are far higher. In Minnesota, 86 COVID-19 cases were detected in the state, resulting in four hospitalizations and one death, and linked to the rally, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2020.
“Anytime you have a large group of people come together there are risks, but with the proper precautions and mitigation practices, it can be done safely,” Daniel Bucheli, director of communications at the South Dakota Department of Health, wrote in an email to USA TODAY. Read more.
— Edward Segarra, USA TODAY
Experts say the immunocompromised should be prioritized for COVID vaccine booster shots
The U.S. government is considering ways to protect roughly 10 million immunocompromised Americans, who may have gotten inadequate coverage from their COVID-19 vaccines.
Immunocompromised people, who make up about 3% of the U.S. population, are in a different category than other Americans, because they may not have mounted an adequate immune response to their COVID-19 vaccinations, Dr. Anthony Fauci told USA TODAY’s editorial board on Friday.
“Some mechanism needs to be done quickly to get those people protected,” said Fauci, a presidential advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Food and Drug Administration, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, are “engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary,” taking into account various forms of data, an FDA spokesperson told USA TODAY via email. Read more.
— Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY
Contributing: Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY; The Associated Press