The delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge throughout the U.S.
New COVID-19 cases per day in the U.S. have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360.
Those are still well below the 3,400 deaths and quarter-million cases per day seen during the worst of the outbreak, in January. Nearly all deaths and serious illnesses now are among unvaccinated people.
But it’s not too late, and it’s not hopeless, according to experts.
“The delta variant is really a game-changer,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, told WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis. “And it means that we’re going to have to use all the tools at our disposal to help protect each of us individually and to help protect our communities.”
The first step, she said, is vaccinations. “We really have to have everyone vaccinated — people who are not vaccinated are at risk right now. And while the cases are rising, that’s why you see more of discussions about masking.”
Bibbins-Domingo said states such as Louisiana, where hospitals are at capacity, and Florida, which has reported a record number of cases, “are really behind the 8-ball.”
That said, “it’s not too late.” She added that the U.S. is going to be dealing with coronavirus “in some form for quite some time.”
“So we do need to get the vaccines into enough people get our vaccination rates up to turn the tide, but also to prepare ourselves trying to get life back to normal as much as we can,” she said. “And that really starts first and foremost with the vaccines.”
CBS News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook said staying unvaccinated isn’t just a matter of “rolling the dice” for yourself.
“Yes, you are rolling the dice for yourself, but you’re also rolling the dice for everybody else. You’re rolling the dice for kids under 12 who can’t get vaccinated, for elderly people whose immunity may be waning, for people … who are immunocompromised,” LaPook said.
“At some point, there is a personal responsibility to society.”
According to Bibbins-Domingo, the delta variant is a game-changer because it moves much more quickly from one person to another. If vaccinated people do get infected, they might be able to transmit it to other people. So that’s one reason mask mandates are being reimposed.
The good news?
The vaccines are “are really working — they’re working exactly as we intend them to do,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
“We should not take the urgency of the delta variant as somehow leading us to be hopeless, that we are never going to get out of this. We are going to turn the tide on this,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
“We just need more people to nudge from being … whether it’s apathy or hesitancy, to really accepting the vaccines, hopefully in the fall, to getting more of our children vaccinated. That’s the first step we all need to take. This is not hopeless. There is an urgency now for everyone to do a little bit more than they were doing yesterday.”
WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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