Reports of breakthrough infections with the delta variant of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 in Americans who are fully vaccinated has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its policy on face masks in public settings for some parts of the U.S.
The agency made the recommendation at a press briefing on Tuesday in what is a reversal of the guidelines issued in May that said fully inoculated individuals could stop wearing masks and no longer needed to socially distance.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, acknowledged at the weekend that government health experts were reviewing the policy.
The delta variant is spreading fast in the U.S., especially in states with high numbers of unvaccinated people. The variant, which was first detected in India, is now present in at least 124 countries, based on the World Health Organization’s latest weekly epidemiological update.
CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week the delta variant accounts for 83% of all cases recently sequenced in the U.S. On Tuesday, she reiterated that the pandemic has become one of the unvaccinated, who account for the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, the delta variant has made it possible that people who have breakthrough infections after being vaccinated can transmit the virus to others. Data shows vaccinated people can have as much viral load as unvaccinated people, she said.
Walensky also said the CDC is now recommending that all students in K-12 schools wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. (Children who are at least 12 years are eligible for the Pfizer shot.)
The highly transmissible variant is behind a rise in COVID cases in all 50 states with several, including Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, currently suffering spikes in cases that are filling hospitals. Louisiana is recording more than 2,400 cases a day, up from fewer than 400 at the beginning of July, according to a New York Times tracker.
The tracker shows the seven-day average cases in the entire U.S. stood at 56,635, up 144% from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are up 68%, and deaths are up 7%. And while the numbers are well below those seen at the peak of the pandemic earlier this year, they are worryingly high and rising.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker, meanwhile, is stubbornly static from day-to-day, showing 163 million people, or 49.1% of the overall population, are fully vaccinated. That means they have had two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer
with German partner BioNTech
or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s
one-shot regimen. The AstraZeneca
vaccine, widely used in the U.K. and other places, has not been granted emergency-use authorization in the U.S.
Among adults 18 and over, 60% are fully vaccinated, while 69% have received at least one dose, still a hair short of Biden’s goal of having 70% of the adult population receive at least one dose by the recent July 4 holiday.
The U.S. is sticking with travel restrictions on international travel as long as delta is spreading around the world, the Associated Press reported. And some federal agencies are moving to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, which announced its decision on Monday.
California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly COVID-19 testing, also from the AP.
The announcements are the “opening of the floodgates” as more government entities and companies impose vaccine mandates after vaccine efforts nationwide “hit a wall,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, told CNN that the U.S. could see four times the current rate of COVID cases in the next four to six weeks if it fails to persuade the unvaccinated to get their shots.
“We’re heading into a rough time. It’s likely, if our trajectory is similar to that in the United Kingdom, that we could see as many as 200,000 cases a day,” he said.
And while the death rate is unlikely to return to pandemic highs, “you will see a steady increase in deaths, and these are preventable deaths.”
Elsewhere, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union has met its goal of having 70% of adults have at least one vaccine shot by July, the Guardian reported. The EU’s initial vaccine rollout was slow and von der Leyen had pledged to catch up by summer.
The U.K. recorded the most deaths and hospitalizations from COVID since March on Tuesday, according to Reuters, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to urge caution. The U.K. fully reopened its economy last week against the advice of hundreds of scientists and experts. On Tuesday, it counted 131 new deaths and 5,918 patients in hospitals.
Tokyo reported a record number of new cases on Tuesday, just days after the start of the Olympic Games, ABC News reported. Tokyo reported 2,848 new COVID-19 cases, exceeding its earlier record of 2,520 daily cases on Jan. 7. That brings its total to more than 200,000 since the pandemic began last year.
Australia’s second biggest city, Melbourne, is expected to lift its fifth lockdown on July 27, NDTV reported, while Sydney, the biggest city, will remain subject to restrictions on movement.
Russia is planning to test mixing the AstraZeneca vaccine with its own vaccine, called Sputnik V, the AP reported.
Indonesia suffered yet another one-day-record death toll of 2,069, according to AFP.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 195 million on Tuesday, while the death toll climbed above 4.16 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.5 million cases and in deaths with 611,144.
India is second by cases at 31.4 million and third by deaths at 421,382, according to its official numbers, which are believed to be undercounted.
Brazil is second in deaths at 550,502, but is third in cases at 19.7 million.
Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 238,595 but has recorded just 2.7 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 152,836, while the U.K. has 129,591, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,714 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.