(CNN) — The surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy has now led to increasing rates of hospitalizations and deaths.
Data from Johns Hopkins University shows:
— The average number of new COVID-19 cases each day the past week was 32,278. That’s a 66% jump from the average daily rate the previous week, and 145% higher than the rate from two weeks ago.
— An average of 258 Americans died from COVID-19 each day this past week — up 13% from the rate of daily deaths the previous week.
— And 24,923 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s a 26% increase from last week and a 50% increase from two weeks ago.
There’s a common theme among those behind the worsening COVID-19 numbers, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said at a COVID-19 briefing Friday.
More than 97% of people getting hospitalized with COVID-19 now are unvaccinated, Walensky said.
And 99.5% of deaths are among the unvaccinated, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Sunday.
Getting people vaccinated as quickly as possible “is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic,” Murthy said.
Pediatricians: Everyone over age 2 should wear masks in school
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools for everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, unless a medical or developmental condition prohibits wearing a mask.
The AAP cited several reasons, including the fact that children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Dr. Sara Bode, chair-elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”
Doctors say one important reason adults should get vaccinated is to protect children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are only authorized for children 12 and older, but studies are underway to test the safety and efficacy of vaccinating younger children.
With those pediatric trials, “thus far, things look good, but the final decision is going to be up to the FDA,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “And I would imagine that likely will not happen until we get well into the winter, towards the end of this year.”
Delta variant sends younger people to the hospital
The director-general of the World Health Organization said the Delta variant is the most contagious strain of coronavirus identified.
In research posted online, scientists examining 62 cases of the Delta variant found viral loads about 1,260 times higher than those found in 63 cases from the early epidemic wave in 2020.
The Delta variant is also sending younger and previously healthy people to hospitals — the vast majority of which have not been vaccinated, say doctors in several states suffering surges.
“This year’s virus is not last year’s virus,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“It’s attacking our 40-year-olds. It’s attacking our parents and young grandparents. And it’s getting our kids,” O’Neal said. She said her COVID-19 unit now has more patients in their 20s than previously during the pandemic.
In the face of rampant misinformation about the virus and the vaccine, McClure urged people to use trusted sources and to “make sure people have good information.”
Misinformation “takes away our freedom,” Murthy said, adding that the inaccurate information inhibits people’s power to make educated decisions about the health of themselves and their families.
And with the virus’ disproportionately higher impact among people who aren’t vaccinated, the consequences can be severe.
“All this misinformation that’s floating around is having a real cost that can be measured in lives lost, and that is tragic,” Murthy said.
Trump administration official: Delta will likely hit those unprotected
Most Americans who are unprotected will likely contract the rapidly spreading Delta variant, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during the Trump administration.
“And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” Gottlieb said on Sunday.
Delta is the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet, Murthy said.
In Los Angeles County, the rate of new COVID-19 cases has increased 300% since July 4, the county health department said. COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled from the previous month.
And 48 states are now seeing new case numbers surge at least 10% higher than the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
That is concerning, Murthy said, because often a rise in cases and hospitalizations is followed by a rise in COVID-19 deaths. Experts are particularly worried about the unvaccinated populations, as 99.5% of the deaths from COVID-19 occur among people who have not been vaccinated, Murthy said.
The only way to stem the rise in cases is vaccination, Murthy said on Sunday.
The fight to increase vaccinations is transitioning to the hands of local leaders, Murthy said. Springfield, Missouri, Mayor Ken McClure said he hopes community leaders will convince people to get vaccinated before it is too late.
“So it gets down to the community leaders, the community institutions that people trust saying you have to get vaccination. That’s the only way that we are going to emerge from this,” McClure said.
11 people show up to three-hour vaccination event
In Alabama, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., a three-and-a-half-hour vaccination clinic at a church outside of Birmingham on Sunday yielded little progress as only 11 people showed up.
MedsPlus, the health care provider on site, has been holding clinics at churches, business and community centers, in hopes of partnering with local leaders that people trust. But according to Alabama Public Health Department’s dashboard, the number of vaccines administered in the state has dropped off in a steep decline since the peak in March and April.
According to data from the CDC, just 33.7% of Alabama’s residents were fully vaccinated as of Sunday.
Since April 1, 529 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. According to the Alabama Public Health department, about 96% of them were unvaccinated.
Shuntasia Williams, 15, said she got her first dose of vaccine at the event because she wants to be protected when school starts next month. She said she’s proud of her friend group for being vaccinated, but she has also seen rumors online that her peers are falling for.
“I seen somebody that said their arm got so swollen, it had to get amputated off,” Williams said. “That is the most crazy thing. One thing about vaccines is they start spreading rumors about it, but you have to get out and see it for yourself.”
Williams said these are not first-hand accounts by people, but rather misleading posts and articles that continue to be shared.
“Take it from me. I’m 15 years old. Go get the vaccine,” she said. “It’s not shocking. My arm is not swollen. I’m not getting my arm amputated. I’m actually feeling great.”