New COVID-19 cases in the country are at least 10% higher this week than they were last week. They’ve risen in 46 states, and in 31 states, new cases of SARS-CoV-2 are at least 50% higher.
The race between getting as many Americans as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 and the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant seems to have dramatically shifted, as case counts rise across the United States. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the U.S. yesterday saw a spike in new COVID-19 cases of 32,765 news cases, and 236 people died from the disease.
Medical experts have been warning for weeks that this could happen. Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s (ICT®) Editorial Advisory Board, pointed out just yesterday that the stage has been set for another COVID-19 surge. “Beating back infection is a numbers game: viruses against antibodies,” Kavanagh wrote. “If the virus changes its armor so the antibodies cannot attach, it develops an advantage. However, it can also produce viruses which are more efficient at attaching to and invading cells, or simply just produce a lot more viruses, overwhelming the system.”
The words “overwhelming the system” have an ominous ring to them, as weary infection preventionists and other health care workers in certain COVID-19 hot spots across the country gear up for yet another round of overcrowded hospitals.
The rates of new COVID-19 cases in the country are at least 10% higher this week than they were last week, according to Johns Hopkins. They’ve risen in 46 states, and in 31 states, new cases of SARS-CoV-2 are at least 50% higher.
There’s a definite cause and effect dynamic taking place. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re vulnerable. Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a press conference on July 8 that “data from several states over the last few months suggests that 99.5% of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States were in unvaccinated people. Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot.”
Things are particularly bad in Missouri, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and—not coincidentally—one of the worst outbreaks of the Delta variant. The White House announced last week that COVID-19 surge teams—which include CDC officials and members of the Federal Emergency Management Team—will be sent to areas particularly hard hit by the Delta variant, and one is in operation in Missouri.
Kavanagh has also mentioned the dangers posed by long COVID-19, and how the young are not immune to that problem. “One of the things that’s really frustrated me with this epidemic and pandemic is that people are totally focused on dying…. But in actuality, the disabilities are much, much more concerning because that is even affecting the young people.”
Howard Jarvis, MD, is an emergency physician in Springfield, Missouri. He tells CNN that most of the patients he’s seeing are unvaccinated younger people.
Jarvis tells CNN: “If they’re sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, they are unvaccinated. That is the absolute common denominator amongst those patients. Earlier in the pandemic, and certainly before we had vaccinations, we were seeing a much older patient population in the emergency department and getting admitted to the hospital…. In recent weeks, we’ve been seeing a much younger population. We're seeing a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, early 50s. We're seeing some teenagers and some pediatric patients as well.”
Health care experts have been concerned about vaccine hesitancy even before there were COVID-19 vaccines. That hesitancy exists even among health care professionals.
The issue came to a head sooner than most expected when Houston Methodist Hospital suspended employees who did not get the COVID-19 vaccine. In late June, 153 of the hospital’s employees were either fired or resigned over the mandated vaccination issue, while a number of hospitals across the country followed Houston Methodist’s lead and made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. Soon after, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) released a statement backing mandatory vaccination for health care workers. APIC 2021 President Ann Marie Pettis, BSN, RN, CIC, said in a press release that the organization “applauds health care organizations for taking this bold patient safety step.”
Pettis continued: “Low health care staff vaccination rates put vulnerable populations at risk of contracting COVID-19. As health care professionals, we have an ethical responsibility to protect those individuals entrusted to our care.”
Just yesterday, APIC joined 6 other health care associations whose members deal with infections in a statement calling for mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers.
The joint statement noted that compliance among health care workers mandated to get the flu vaccine was 94.4% in the 2019-2020 season. For health care workers who did not have to get the flu vaccine, compliance was 69.9%.
“While vaccinations represent one of the most effective strategies to mitigate risk of transmission of communicable diseases, vaccination of HCP with ACIP-recommended vaccines prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has been suboptimal, with approximately 50% of surveyed HCP [health care professionals] in March 2021 remaining unvaccinated,” the statement reads.