The contagious delta strain is driving COVID-19 hospitalizations in the western mountains and fueling disruptive outbreaks in the north, a worrying sign of what’s ahead in the US this winter
“We’re going to see a lot of outbreaks in unvaccinated people that will result in serious illness, and it’s going to be tragic,” said Dr. Donald Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
In Michigan, the three-county Detroit area is once again becoming a transmission hotspot, with nearly 400 COVID-19 patients in hospitals. Mask wearing in Michigan has declined to about 25% of people, according to a combination of studies followed by an influential modeling group at the University of Washington.
New Mexico is running out of intensive care beds, despite the state’s above-average vaccination coverage. Waning immunity may play a role. People who have been vaccinated early and have not yet received booster shots may increase the number of infections, even if they still have some protection against the most serious effects of the virus.
“Delta and waning immunity — the combination of the two has set us back,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington. “This virus will stay with us for a long time.”
The delta variant dominates infections in the US, accounting for over 99% of analyzed samples.
No state has achieved a high enough vaccination rate, even in combination with infection-induced immunity, to prevent the kind of outbreaks that are happening now, Mokdad said.
Deviating from national recommendations, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order on Thursday granting any resident 18 years of age or older access to a COVID-19 booster shot, another step to prevent hospitals and health professionals from being overwhelmed by the increase in the state of delta infections.
Vaccination advances continue, but nearly 60 million Americans ages 12 and older remain unvaccinated. That’s an improvement since July, when 100 million were unvaccinated, said White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Ziens.
First shots average about 300,000 a day, and the effort to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 is off to a good start, Zients said at a briefing Wednesday.
Imagine everyone you spend time with is a smoker and you want to inhale as little of their smoke as possible, she said.
“The closer you are to a smoker, the more exposure you have to that smoke,” Marr said. “And if you’re in a poorly ventilated area, the smoke builds up over time.”
Marr said she and her vaccinated family will use rapid tests before meeting before Christmas to check for infection.
“It’s hard to know what’s going to come with this virus,” Marr said. “We thought we knew, but delta really surprised us. We thought the vaccine would help put an end to this, but things are still dragging on. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen.”
Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.