“This surge that we’re going through right now has every potential to be — and already looks to be — the worst surge we’ve faced so far,” former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said in a live online interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday.
But we don’t have to get there. Health officials say the key to quickly turning things around is getting more shots into arms.
“If we work together, unify as a country, vaccinate everyone who is interested and unvaccinated, and put our masks on to prevent disease, we could really control this in a matter of weeks,” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN on Thursday.
Here’s where we are now.
Average cases have increased nine-fold since early July
As of Friday, America’s seven-day average of daily Covid-19 cases was more than 107,100 — the highest average in nearly six months, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The last time average daily cases topped 100,000 was February 11. Average daily cases have seen a nine-fold increase since early July.
“The frustrating part is this is all preventable,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Thursday. “Had we really accelerated throughout May and June and fully vaccinated the country … we wouldn’t have to worry about this so much.”
Surges have been particularly steep across the South, including in Florida and Louisiana, where Walensky said Thursday there have been “exponential rises” in cases that don’t look like they’ve reached their peak just yet.
Hospitalizations are highest since February
America’s Covid-19 hospitalizations haven’t been this high since February.
“Today we find ourselves retracing our steps towards the edge of a cliff. It is very conceivable that we could once again be heading toward a public health catastrophe,” Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a news conference on Thursday. In that conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the Texas Medical Center campus in Houston had admitted more than 300 Covid-19 patients in a day.
Last week, Arkansas reported a record low of 25 ICU beds available across the state. In Mississippi, health officials said Wednesday only six ICU beds were available.
Child and teen Covid-19 cases jumped 84% in a week
“I don’t think this virus is necessarily targeting kids or adolescents, I think what’s happened is, I think what you’re seeing across the South right now is a forest fire, and everything is getting swept up in it, including adolescents, including younger kids,” Hotez told CNN on Thursday.
“The way you stop that is you get as many people vaccinated,” he added. “The more you can vaccinate, you can actually slow transmission.”
Delta variant accounts for 93% of US Covid-19 cases
Those numbers show a rapid increase in the variant’s prevalence across the US. In late May, the CDC estimated that Delta made up about 3% of new Covid-19 cases.
“This is serious,” Walensky previously told CNN. “It’s one of the most transmissible viruses we know about.”
Officials across the country have said the Delta variant is fueling their case increases.
Mississippi Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Thursday the state has seen a “phenomenal increase” in daily cases that’s “entirely attributable to the Delta variant, which is sweeping over Mississippi like a tsunami.” Roughly 97% of new cases are among unvaccinated people, Dobbs said.
“We’re seeing the unvaccinated in our population driving the current surge. We’re seeing about 89% of our hospitalizations and 85% of our deaths are unvaccinated.”
Most Americans live in substantial or high Covid-19 spread areas
Experts say knowing how much virus is circulating in a community can help residents understand the kind of risk they’re taking when choosing whether to mask up or not.
The good news
And seeing some of the sharpest vaccination increases are several Southern states, which have for months seen poor vaccine progress and heavy vaccine hesitancy. At the end of July, Alabama’s average of new doses administered was more than double what it was three weeks before.
Louisiana saw daily vaccination rates jump 111% in the same time frame, while in Missouri daily average vaccinations climbed by 87%.
“The ultimate answer” to turning around this surge is vaccination, emergency medicine physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“We know that what will stop the virus in its tracks and really is our only and best way out of the pandemic is to increase our vaccination rates,” Wen said. “If we have a high enough level of immunity in the US then we’re able to stop this virus from wreaking the type of havoc that it is.”
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.