Worst of delta surge appears over as infections dwindle; rural Americans dying at twice the rate of those in cities: COVID-19 updates
America's deadly wave driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus is subsiding, after extracting a terrible cost.
The wave especially battered Southern states with relatively low vaccination rates despite the widespread availability of free shots. It continues to hit some places, especially Alaska, where hospitals have been forced to ration care and choose who gets treatment. But for most of America, the worst of the delta surge is over.
Cases peaked around Sept. 4, when the U.S. had 164,000 new infections in an average day, adding up to about 6.3 million coronavirus cases from the apparent start of the wave around July 1. In the last month, the average has fallen 34.7%, to about 107,000 new infections per day, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
Hospitalizations and the number of beds occupied by people who likely have COVID are down as well, by 26.9% and 25.3% respectively, compared to four weeks ago, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows.
Deaths, which typically trail infections by about four weeks, have decreased by 11.7% since the Sept. 22 peak, but not before more than 77,000 Americans lost their lives to COVID-19 between that date and July 1. Even at the slower pace, some 1,812 Americans are dying of the disease in a typical day.
No wonder Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, warns that this is no time to get overconfident.
"We still have 70 million Americans in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not gotten vaccinated yet,'' Fauci told CNN while reflecting on the U.S. crossing the threshold of 700,000 COVID deaths. "So we don't want that number to continue to go up, and we can blunt it very, very well with vaccinations.''
-- Mike Stucka
Also in the news:
►Since the start of the school year, more than 2,200 schools in 561 districts across 45 states have closed temporarily because of a COVID-19 outbreak, according to Burbio, a New York-based data service that is tracking K-12 school reopening trends.
►The Bourdon bell of the the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., will toll 700 times Tuesday afternoon to commemorate the 700,000-plus Americans who have died of COVID-19.
►Three Vatican Swiss Guards who have refused vaccination despite a mandate from the pope have voluntarily left the corps to return to Switzerland, a Swiss Guard official said.
►Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustint blamed the country's stalled vaccination effort for the country's rising death rate. Monday's toll was the third highest since the pandemic – after Sunday set a record. About 36% of the adult population has been vaccinated, according to an independent monitor.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 43.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 701,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 235 million cases and 4.8 million deaths. More than 185.5 million Americans – 56.2% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we're reading: Despite federal COVID-19 aid, some cities are facing massive hurdles in bringing workers back after budget cuts. In fact, state and local governments haven’t recovered about 400,000 of the non-education jobs shed since the start of the pandemic. Read more about the issue here.
The outage that hit Facebook and some of its platforms Monday was almost certainly not caused by doctors battling COVID-19 outbreaks, but they might have cheered for the blackout to last.
Interviews conducted by The Associated Press with several physicians on the frontlines of the pandemic reveal growing frustration with the COVID denial and anti-vaccine misinformation they regularly encounter from their patients, much of it spread through social media.
"Just stop looking at Facebook,'' said Dr. Vincent Shaw of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who has heard from at least one patient who believes the vaccines contain trackers that can make recipients magnetic and another who was skeptical of them because they're free.
Some doctors describe being aggravated at the constant requests to be prescribed the veterinary parasite drug Ivermectin, with patients lashing out when told it’s not a safe coronavirus treatment. Other patients express unfounded beliefs that the vaccines contain fetal cells, are more dangerous than the coronavirus or can lead to impotence.
Dr. Matthew Trunsky, a pulmonologist in Troy, Michigan, figures he has cared for about 100 patients who have died since the pandemic began. At one point, a patient told him he'd rather die than get the vaccine. Trunsky’s response: “You may get your wish.”
Dr. Carl Lambert in Chicago said the most common misguided thinking he hears from patients who won't get inoculated is they're wary of how quickly the vaccines were developed and would rather wait.
“Please do not try to wait out a pandemic,'' he tells them. "A pandemic will win.”
NYC vaccination mandate for teachers takes effect
New York City's 148,000 school teachers and staffers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 effective Monday as the nation's largest public school system became one of the first to mandate inoculation.
“Our parents need to know their kids will be safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “They entrust us with their children. That’s what this mandate is all about."
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said 97% of his union’s members had received at least one dose as of Monday morning. The mayor said 95% of all teachers and staffers had been jabbed.
Unvaccinated employees are being placed on unpaid leave and not be allowed to work this week, de Blasio said. The mandate does allow for medical and religious exemptions.
The city was able to keep most school buildings open during most of the last school year when other districts went to all-remote instruction, although only a fraction of more than 1 million students chose the in-class option. New York City is not offering a remote option this year.
America's front-line service workers, toiling in the midst of a pandemic, are responsible for policing mask and vaccination policies in most places. Social scientists, labor activists and other experts say the burden and trauma have been borne mostly by women because they dominate the low-paying jobs where employees interact with the public. Flight attendants, food servers, retail employees, nurses and workers in dozens of public-facing jobs have been verbally assailed or physically assaulted as “the first line of defense” for mask mandates and vaccine verification, said Christine Williams, a University of Texas at Austin sociology professor.
“It’s built into their jobs,” Williams said. “I think you’ll find a lot of people in those positions take it on the chin on a daily basis.” Read more here.
– Dennis Wagner
Rural Americans are dying of COVID-19 at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts – a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer and less vaccinated. While the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths skipped over much of rural America, where roughly 15% of Americans live, non-metropolitan mortality rates quickly started to outpace those of metropolitan areas as the virus spread nationwide before vaccinations became available, according to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute.
Since the pandemic began, about one in 434 rural Americans have died of COVID, compared with roughly one in 513 urban Americans, the institute’s data shows. But COVID incidence rates in September were roughly 54% higher in rural areas than elsewhere, and they're accelerating quickly.
– Lauren Weber, Kaiser Health News
Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, who had become one of the faces of vaccine resistance in the NBA, has relented and will be available to play the team's home games.
Wiggins received his COVID-19 vaccination, coach Steve Kerr told reporters Sunday at the Warriors' training camp, putting him in compliance with San Francisco's mandates for large events in the city. Wiggins would not have been eligible to play home games in the city had he not been vaccinated. The NBA previously denied Wiggins' request for a religious exemption from any city mandates.
Wiggins, 26, said just last week that his back was "definitely against the wall, but I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe. I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe is right. What’s right to one person isn’t right to the other and vice versa."
Wiggins stood to lose more than $350,000 for every home game missed, amounting to half of his $31.6 million salary for the 2021-22 season.
– Matt Eppers
The number of Floridians receiving coronavirus shots climbed more slowly in the past week than at any time since late December, an analysis of state data shows. Florida added just 85,026 more residents to its COVID-19 inoculation count in the past seven days, a Health Department report published Friday says. That’s the smallest increase since Dec. 28, the second week of statewide coronavirus immunization reporting.
In total, 13,621,499 Florida residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, covering 71% of the eligible population ages 12 and older, state health officials reported. Health officials reported Friday that 11,370,030 Florida residents are fully vaccinated, or 59.5% of the eligible population.
Florida’s summer surge of COVID-19 deaths, which happened mostly to the unvaccinated, has tapered off. The state’s death toll climbed 1,719 in the past week, the slowest pace since Aug. 27, before the wave of newly reported fatalities crested. The state’s death toll stands at 55,299.
Florida health officials have documented more lives lost – 17,429 – than any other state since June 4, when they stopped publishing daily coronavirus statistics because “our state is returning to normal, with vaccines widely available throughout Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said at the time.
– Chris Persaud, Palm Beach Post
Contributing: Associated Press