COVID-19 cases climbing, wiping out months of progress

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to where they were over the winter, wiping out months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for sweeping new vaccination requirements.

Posted: Sep 14, 2021 1:42 PM

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to where they were over the winter, wiping out months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for sweeping new vaccination requirements.

The cases — driven by the delta variant combined with resistance among some Americans to getting vaccinated — are concentrated mostly in the South.

While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are soaring in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now back in school, loose mask restrictions and low vaccination levels.

The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like January’s infection peak: Surgeries canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or over capacity in Texas.

The deteriorating picture nine months into the nation’s vaccination drive has angered and frustrated medical professionals who see the heartbreak as preventable. The vast majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated.

In Kentucky, 70% of the state’s hospitals -- 66 of 96 -- are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level yet during the pandemic, the governor said.

“Our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.

The U.S. is averaging over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels respectively since early March and late January. And both figures have been on the rise over the past two weeks.

The nation is dispensing about 900,000 shots of the vaccine per day, well below the peak of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the U.S. should begin dispensing booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to shore up people’s protection.

On a positive note, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 appears to be leveling off or even declining at around 90,000, or about where things stood in February.

The outbreak in the U.S. topped out in January at an average of about 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day. That was just weeks into the nation’s vaccination drive. A precipitous drop followed, extending into the spring before creeping back up with the rise of the more contagious delta variant.

Last week, the president ordered all employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

The new rules have met with resistance and threats of lawsuits from Republicans.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky, said he has admitted families where the delta variant has swept through generations, especially if the older members are unvaccinated.

“Now in Kentucky, one-third of new cases are under age 18,” he said. Some children brought it home from summer camp and spread it to the rest of the family, and now, “between day care and schools and school activities, and friends getting together, there are just so many exposures.”

In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients fill intensive care units, and hospital staff in one facility contacted 43 other hospitals in three states to find a specialty cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin DeMonia. It wasn’t fast enough. The 73-year-old died Sept. 1. And his family made a plea in his obituary.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies,” his obituary read.

In Hidalgo County, Texas, along the Mexican border, about 50 patients were in the hospital with COVID-19 on a given day in July. By early August, the number had soared to over 600.

“Back in July we were almost celebrating. Little did we know,” said Ivan Melendez, public health authority for Hidalgo County. The situation has improved somewhat, with just under 300 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, but ICUs are still above 90% capacity, Melendez said.

“We have not turned the corner,” Melendez said. “Double digits of people, double digits are dying every day.”

The biggest surge over the summer occurred in states that had low vaccination rates, particularly in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and are breathing recirculated air, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

Heading into colder months, states farther north with low vaccination rates, especially in the Midwest, are likely to see upticks.

“We’re cresting the peak right now, but I don’t think it’s going to come all the way back down,” Marr said. “I think it’s going to kind of stay at the simmering level as it works its way through the unvaccinated population in the other states. And it’ll work its way north because in the wintertime, people are heating and then you get that same issue of recirculating the air indoors.”

Vaccination rates are not as low in some of the Northern states, but “there’s still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. Delta is going to find them,” Marr said.

And vaccinated people are still not in the clear. Shri Amarnath said her father got sick during a business trip to Georgia just before his Aug. 31 retirement and had to miss his last day of work and retirement festivities.

After he had been symptom-free for 48 hours, the family left for a lake house in Tennessee. Everyone was vaccinated. But Amarnath’s mother started feeling sick during the trip and has now tested positive.

Everyone else is quarantining and planning to get tested or retested, said Amaranth, who lives in Indianapolis.

“Everyone is kind of like on alert, waiting to see who’s next,” she said.

___

Associated Press Writers Ken Sweet and Tali Arbel contributed to this report.

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1590342

Reported Deaths: 26979
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook60937610925
DuPage1031521352
Will865801083
Lake764741056
Kane65399842
Winnebago38682543
Madison37731569
St. Clair34758561
McHenry32773313
Peoria25738361
Champaign25601182
Sangamon24263266
McLean21611205
Tazewell19559326
Rock Island17631342
Kankakee16523233
Kendall15274105
LaSalle14349275
Macon14248233
Vermilion12908182
Adams12589147
DeKalb11542127
Williamson11206156
Whiteside7813176
Boone756681
Jackson756683
Coles7175112
Ogle705385
Grundy693181
Clinton676498
Franklin669694
Knox6528163
Marion6454135
Macoupin636597
Henry610272
Jefferson5981131
Effingham588980
Livingston564394
Woodford549791
Stephenson540089
Randolph522996
Monroe503299
Christian481980
Morgan479995
Fulton479069
Logan473573
Montgomery462876
Lee454956
Bureau423087
Perry411171
Saline399263
Iroquois391171
Fayette387756
McDonough352155
Jersey319753
Douglas303336
Shelby300343
Crawford298930
Lawrence294631
Union293846
Wayne267957
White261530
Richland256852
Hancock253434
Pike252256
Cass247728
Clark244138
Bond242224
Clay233347
Ford233056
Edgar229844
Carroll223937
Warren220456
Moultrie209331
Johnson208922
Washington204927
Jo Daviess203525
Greene199339
Mason196251
Wabash196115
Massac195144
De Witt192730
Piatt188814
Mercer187035
Cumberland174123
Menard155812
Jasper149518
Marshall133721
Hamilton127221
Brown10138
Pulaski97311
Schuyler9608
Edwards94815
Stark76027
Gallatin7285
Scott6895
Alexander66411
Calhoun6382
Henderson63114
Hardin55713
Putnam5414
Pope4725
Unassigned1582432
Out of IL80

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 926604

Reported Deaths: 15083
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1262201958
Lake626901087
Allen52772747
Hamilton43283445
St. Joseph41475584
Elkhart33129488
Vanderburgh29927439
Tippecanoe26589247
Johnson23267415
Hendricks21902340
Porter21473341
Clark17150224
Madison17065379
Vigo15815273
Monroe14298190
LaPorte14108237
Delaware13771219
Howard13635262
Kosciusko11232134
Hancock10637160
Warrick10523176
Bartholomew10341167
Floyd10200202
Wayne9690218
Grant8939196
Morgan8734158
Boone8299109
Dubois7596123
Henry7469128
Dearborn745187
Noble7294101
Marshall7237128
Cass7097117
Lawrence6862150
Shelby6457107
Jackson643981
Gibson6036106
Harrison595585
Huntington591891
Montgomery5706102
DeKalb563591
Knox537599
Miami531983
Clinton527164
Putnam525367
Whitley516251
Steuben486367
Wabash477492
Jasper471961
Jefferson461991
Ripley444175
Adams439365
Daviess4064106
Scott394963
White386257
Clay382356
Greene380189
Wells379683
Decatur379595
Fayette367176
Posey354941
Jennings346356
Washington325847
LaGrange315774
Spencer313034
Fountain309753
Randolph305487
Sullivan299447
Owen279161
Starke272761
Orange272659
Fulton268851
Jay250634
Perry247451
Carroll241127
Franklin233637
Vermillion229750
Rush228930
Parke215220
Tipton206754
Pike202538
Blackford165634
Pulaski158751
Crawford142818
Newton140742
Benton139816
Brown132646
Martin126916
Switzerland123510
Warren113416
Union93511
Ohio77211
Unassigned0468