Coronavirus deaths are picking up again as the Delta variant tears through unvaccinated pockets in the country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
“After weeks of declines, the seven-day average daily deaths rose 26% to 211 per day,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a press conference.
New cases are also on the rise, with a current seven-day average of 26,300 cases, according to the CDC. That is around 70% more than the seven-day average of the last week.
The seven-day average for hospital admissions is now 2,790, which is about 36% higher than a week ago after weeks of declines.
In light of the new numbers, Walensky said the pandemic has now become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.
“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally doing well,” Walensky said.
Only four states accounted for more than 40% of all new cases in the past week. One in five cases occurred in Florida alone. Florida stopped public health measures related to Covid much sooner than most states.
“Local decision-makers might consider masking their community at this point until they increase their vaccination rates,” Walensky said of states with low vaccination rates.
The five states with the highest case numbers – Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada – had higher vaccination rates compared to the national average. In the past 10 days, 5 million Americans have received a Covid vaccine, according to White House Covid Response Coordinator Jeff Zients.
The US reports an average of 530,000 vaccinations per day over the past week, according to the CDC. More than 3 million shots a day were reportedly administered at peak levels in April.
About 65% of Americans 12 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and 56.5% are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.
Walensky claimed that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the Delta strain, although studies have shown decreased effectiveness of the vaccines against the highly transmissible variant.
The Israeli Ministry of Health released preliminary results that the Pfizer vaccine was 64% effective in preventing infection from the Delta variant. The study also showed similar effectiveness in preventing serious illness from the virus variant after two doses. Some experts have criticized the Israeli study, citing problems with Israeli genome monitoring.
Other studies by Public Health England and The Lancet put the prevention rates for the Delta variant after two doses of a Pfizer vaccine at much higher numbers. Walensky also cited numbers “exceeding 90%” in mRNA vaccine protection against hospitalization and death from the Delta variant.
The conflicting data has heightened concerns about Covid infections bypassing vaccination protection. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, said Friday that someone who has had a breakthrough infection is highly protected from symptomatic or serious illness and has even a lower chance of spreading the virus to others.
An asymptomatic person who is infected with Covid despite being vaccinated has much lower levels of virus in the nasopharynx than an unvaccinated, asymptomatic and infected person with the virus.
“On this basis, one could reasonably assume that the rate of transmission from an asymptomatically vaccinated person to a non-infected person is lower than that of an unvaccinated person,” said Fauci.
Current breakthrough asymptomatic infection rates are largely unknown after the CDC decided to only count those breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death. This move has been criticized by health experts around the world.
Of the cases documented by the CDC, approximately 75% of breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death occurred in people over 65.
More than 97% of Americans who enter hospitals with symptomatic Covid infections are unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Still, the landmark cases have raised questions about the need for a booster dose for fully vaccinated individuals to combat emerging variants.
“At that point, the CDC and FDA have said that Americans who have been fully vaccinated will not need a booster vaccination,” Zients said. He added that the booster recommendation could change if science indicates a need for the shots.
The White House is also calling on social media and technology companies to step up their efforts to filter out misinformation about Covid and vaccines.
“Technology companies have made it possible to poison our information environment through misinformation without having to account to their users,” said US surgeon general Vivek Murthy on Thursday.
In his first recommendation since the beginning of President Joe Biden’s tenure, Murthy said that recommendations normally reserved for the dangers of what Americans eat, drink or smoke should now be extended to rapidly spreading health misinformation because they “ cost us lives ”.
“Tackling misinformation in the health sector is an urgent challenge of moral and civic responsibility that we must face together,” said Murthy. “The longer we wait, the more lives we lose.”
– CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.