COVID is surging, overwhelmingly on the unvaccinated

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the rise in the U.S. as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads across the country.

The big picture: This is happening almost exclusively to people who aren’t vaccinated, and it’s worse in places where overall vaccination rates are low.

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging about 26,000 new cases per day — up 70% from the previous week, Walensky said. Hospitalizations are up 36%, and deaths are up 26%, to an average of 211 per day.

Roughly 66% of eligible Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 57% are fully vaccinated.

That is enough vaccinations to avoid another wave as bad as the worst of the pandemic, when the U.S. was averaging more than 3,000 deaths per day. But it is still low enough that another wave of illness death, largely confined to the unvaccinated, is still very much a possibility.

Over 97% of the people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

Driving the news: Vaccinations in the U.S. have plateaued just as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus here and around the world.

A small handful of states with especially low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — are driving a plurality of new cases. One in five new infections comes from Florida alone, Walensky said.”If you don’t choose the vaccine, you’re choosing death,” one Louisiana doctor said at a press conference last week. The state has also undertaken a lottery with cash prizes to boost its vaccination rates.In Eastern Kentucky, demand is so low that health workers don’t think twice about breaking the seal on a new vial of vaccines, even if most of it will spoil, just to deliver a single dose.

The good news: The vaccines work, even against the Delta variant.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — as well as the AstraZeneca shot, which is not authorized in the U.S. — are still highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections and hospitalizations, according to a Financial Times review of real-world data from several countries where the Delta variant is dominant.Some vaccinated people can still get sick, but the risk of severe illness is far lower. Roughly 3,700 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 infections nationwide, according to the CDC — not zero, but still dramatically lower than the risk faced by unvaccinated people.

The bottom line: This is, in large part, what experts anticipated in low-vaccination parts of the world. In the U.S, however, unlike much of the rest of the world, vaccines are free and readily available. All of these cases and deaths are preventable.

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