(CNN) — With the recent rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due to the spread of the highly communicable delta variant, health experts and officials expect the increase in cases to worsen as large segments of the country remain unvaccinated.
“We’re going to see this big, abrupt acceleration,” Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. “As bad as things are now in the south, they are about to get worse for many unvaccinated people.”
Officials in southern states, where vaccination rates have generally lagged behind other parts of the country, are working to spread the word.
In Georgia, the case rate has more than tripled over the last 14-day period, the state health department announced Friday, urging residents to get vaccinated, as the delta variant is more communicable than previous variants of the covid-19.
“Unfortunately, we can expect the Covid-19 numbers to continue to grow. People who are not vaccinated or who skip the second dose of the vaccine are a target of infection,” said Georgia Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey.
More Americans may be responding to the crisis as recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the pace of vaccinations is increasing, especially in states where vaccination rates were lower.
The United States averaged 652,084 doses administered per day – either a first or a second injection – over the past week through Friday, according to the CDC. That’s almost 27% more than the average seen about three weeks ago.
The increase has been more pronounced in some states with the lowest vaccine adoption rates.
Alabama, which has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated population (34%), saw that the daily doses applied – in an average of seven days – doubled compared to where it was three weeks before: 13,131 a day compared to 6,138, according to the CDC.
That average also more than doubled in three weeks in Arkansas (9,842 a day vs. 3,962 a day) and Louisiana (13,500 daily doses vs. 6,411 a day). Each of those two states has less than 38% of its population fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
As of Friday morning, 49.5% of the US population was fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The complete vaccination figure was 57.9% for eligible individuals, 12 years of age and older.
Orders for the use of masks for the vaccinated and unvaccinated return
Due to the higher transmissibility of the delta variant, officials advise that all Americans – regardless of vaccination status – be aware of their surroundings.
Aerosols containing COVID-19 can travel as easily as cigarette smoke, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on Friday.
“If you want to understand what a spray is, think of someone smoking,” Osterholm told CNN. “If you can smell a cigarette where you are, then you are breathing the air of someone else who may have the virus.”
Osterholm noted that while transmitting the virus indoors is the main challenge, there are examples of COVID-19 cases that point out that it can be transmitted outdoors, when people are together for extended periods of time.
Because of this, the mask mandates return in more cities.
On Friday Birmingham, New Orleans and Louisville announced plans to reinstate mask-wearing orders to reduce transmission indoors.
“If we take the necessary steps to level out the amount of disease that is now, we can do it in a matter of weeks, if we all get vaccinated, if we wear masks,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Fox on Friday.
This week, the CDC changed its guidance on mask use and advises vaccinated people to resume wearing the mask indoors in areas of “high” or “substantial” transmission of the virus. That currently covers more than 80% of the US population, according to an analysis of CNN data released Friday by the CDC.
A recent study shows that the delta variant can produce similar amounts of virus in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but real-world data shows that unvaccinated people are at a much higher risk of contracting serious diseases.
Coronavirus case rates have risen as the delta variant increased its presence in United States.
The country averaged more than 77,800 new cases a day over the past week, an average that has generally risen since the country hit a low of 11,299 cases a day on June 22 in 2021, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Hospitalizations have also risen. More than 43,700 covid-19 patients were in U.S. hospitals as of the end of July, a number that has generally risen from a low of 15,906 on June 27, 2021, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS , for its acronym in English).
At Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles, the vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated.
“(Most) say, ‘If I had known I was going to feel so bad, I would have had the vaccine,'” center director Dr. Thomas Yadegar told CNN on Saturday.
Intensive Care Units (ICUs) fill up again
As the delta variant spreads, hospitalizations accumulate to worrying levels.
Mississippi, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates among US states, is dealing with a dizzying level of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization.
Data from the Mississippi Department of Health on Friday showed that of the 827 ICU beds statewide, only 107, or about 13%, are currently available. All 88 beds in the intensive care unit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the largest in the state, are full.
Hospitalizations are beginning to be seen in younger age groups, state health official Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Thursday. He pointed to data showing that 88% of hospitalizations occur among unvaccinated people, and it is having a “significant indirect effect on vaccinated older Mississippiians.”
In Texas, Austin Public Health says the region is facing the fewest number of ICU beds available since the start of the pandemic, with only 16 available.
“Our ICU capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk for the entire community has increased significantly, and not just for those who need treatment for COVID-19,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes on Friday. , Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “If we don’t come together as a community now, we are putting the lives of loved ones who might need intensive care at risk.
Statewide, several trauma service areas each had fewer than ten ICU beds available on Friday, based on Texas health data. Some of the affected areas include Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Abilene, Killeen, Waco, Beaumont, and Victoria.
Florida healthcare facilities continue to prepare for the increase, as AdventHealth Hospital System halted all non-emergency surgeries and procedures due to the high hospitalization for covid-19.
Dr. Neil Finkler, clinical director for AdventHealth Central Florida, said Friday that more than 90% of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated.
“None of these patients thought they would contract the virus, but the delta variant has proven to be so contagious that even the young and healthy, including pregnant patients, are beginning to fill our hospitals,” Finkler said.
CNN’s Jason Hanna, Matthew Hilk, Paul Vercammen, Deanna Hackney, Lauren Mascarenhas, Deidre McPhillips, Jennifer Henderson and Raja Razek contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism