With the rise in the number of coronavirus infections again, many Americans are wondering why the United States is once again experiencing an increase in cases and hospitalizations despite widespread vaccinations.
The United States now reports more than 94,000 new COVID-19 cases every day – an increase of 47% since the end of October. And 35 states – almost all in the northern or mountainous region – have seen an increase in daily cases of 10% or more in the last two weeks.
Just under 53,000 COVID-19-positive patients are currently receiving care in hospitals across the country – an increase of more than 7,000 patients from earlier in the month.
Several states – including Michigan, Maine and New Hampshire – are experiencing record increases.
Experts say a confluence of factors is likely to drive the country’s recent rises in infections, including the more than 100 million Americans who remain completely unvaccinated, cold weather and relaxed restrictions, the highly transmissible delta variant and declining vaccine immunity.
Unvaccinated Americans continue to drive COVID-19 transmission
According to the health authorities, the vast majority of infections and serious hospitalizations remain among the unvaccinated.
In September, federal data showed that unvaccinated individuals are 5.8 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 14 times more likely to die from it compared to those who are fully vaccinated.
“What we are concerned about are the people who are not vaccinated, because what they are doing is that they are the biggest source of the dynamics of the infection in the community,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Leading Medical Advisor. , said during a performance on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “The higher the level of infection dynamics, the more everyone is at risk.”
Across the country, more than 100 million Americans remain completely unvaccinated – 81 million of them are currently over 5 years of age and are therefore eligible to be vaccinated.
The significant number of unvaccinated individuals – about 30.5% of the total population – leaves millions at risk and completely unprotected from the virus.
Relaxed restrictions, increased travel and colder weather are pushing people indoors
With winter on the way, and the holiday season on the horizon, many Americans spend more time indoors as the weather gets colder. COVID-19, as well as other respiratory diseases, has been shown to spread more in indoor environments and when people are forced to be close to each other.
Millions of Americans also travel again and take to the air, railroads, and highways. A total of 53.4 million people are expected to travel to Thanksgiving, an increase of 13% from 2020, according to estimates from AAA.
Although masking is required in all forms of public transportation, across the country, COVID-19 restrictions are sparse, with few jurisdictions now requiring facial coverage or social distancing.
“We see cases seeping up, this is probably due to declining immunity, but also because of the colder temperatures, people gather indoors and adhere to less social distance and masking,” John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor, told “World News Tonight.” “Unfortunately, it’s a recipe for an increase in transmission this holiday season.”
Masking has been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and is still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in crowded outdoor environments and for activities in close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
The Delta variant remains highly transferable
In the United States, federal data show that the delta variant accounts for 99.9% of new coronavirus cases. According to the CDC, delta is far more transferable than previous variants.
Many of the country’s northern states were not so hard hit by the delta wave over the summer. These states are currently feeling the effects of the delta variant. By comparison, states like Florida, which carried the bulk of this summer’s delta increase, report very low COVID-19 infection rates.
“We see that there are pockets of increases in this country where the Midwest is one, but also in the Northeast,” Brownstein said
The Delta variant spreads more easily among vaccinated humans than previous versions of the virus, although vaccinated humans are still far less likely to spread the virus compared to unvaccinated humans.
Vaccine immunity is declining
Although the vast majority of infections and serious hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, breakthrough-positive COVID-19 cases among the vaccinated appear to be on the rise due to declining immunity, according to health officials.
“There is no doubt that immunity is declining. It is declining in everyone. It is more dangerous in the elderly, but it is across all age groups,” Fauci said earlier this month, citing data from Israel and Britain where more people were vaccinated before and began to to first document diminishing immunity.
Experts stress that the vaccines remain extremely effective against severe COVID-19 disease.
Boosters are now recommended for all 18 years and older, at least six months after an initial Pfizer or Moderna vaccination or two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot.
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