Delta strain fuels COVID surge, vaccinations stall

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NEW YORK — As the Delta variant drove triple-digit increases in new cases of COVID-19 and a double-digit rise in deaths, efforts to vaccinate the rest of the United States population were running up against resistance that is often culturally or ideologically based.

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The more highly contagious nature of the Delta variant prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that people who have been vaccinated resume wearing masks indoors in certain parts of the country. Local officials in some municipalities, including Los Angeles County and St. Louis County, had begun to reimpose mask mandates at presstime.

The Wall Street Journal cited researchers who estimate that the Delta variant is approximately 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant that was dominant previously, and that strain is about 50% more contagious than the original Wuhan strain. According to researchers, the Delta variant penetrates cells more easily, and consequently people infected with it carry higher levels of the virus and shed more of it as well, although how much more is still unknown.

In any event, the pandemic is clearly on the rebound. According to WSJ’s Coronavirus Tracker, over the two weeks ended July 29 the seven-day rolling average of reported cases in the U.S. soared 152.2%, while deaths rose 14.5%. Those figures were very close to corresponding tracking data by The New York Times for the two weeks ended July 28.

The Times judged that the national outlook was “worsening quickly” as the number of new cases per day increase fourfold over the prior month. However, the paper also pointed out that the level of hospitalizations and deaths still remained well below the peak levels of last year. Additionally, it noted that about 97% of hospitalized patients have not been vaccinated.

While people who have been vaccinated are getting COVID from the Delta variant, such “breakthrough infections” are still comparatively uncommon, and those that result in serious illness, hospitalization or death are even more rare. Officials of Pfizer Inc. recently reported that their data shows that protection provided by its vaccine remains robust six months after inoculation. Nonetheless, the company says that a third shot could significantly boost the level of disease-fighting antibodies, and it plans to seek authorization for a booster by mid-August.

The real problem is that progress in vaccination has stalled, with only 49% of Americans fully vaccinated while 57% have received at least one dose.

While every state has reported significant increases in cases, the worst hot spots in the country were Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. Louisiana was reporting fewer than 400 new cases a day at the beginning of July, but that metric shot up to more than 2,400 cases a day by July 28. The hardest hit states are also distinguished by comparatively low vaccination rates. In Missouri, for example, only 41% of all ages had been fully vaccinated, while 48% have received at least one shot. Only 36% of Arkansas residents were fully vaccinated, and 37% in Louisiana. Florida mirrored the percentages for the total U.S.

By contrast, in Vermont, where two-thirds of residents were fully vaccinated, the average daily number of new cases was 28, while the number of those tested averaged 1,730.

Business, meanwhile, is pondering what measures to take, from reviving safety protocols in workplaces to extending out-of-office remote work. Among major retailers, Albertsons Cos. was preparing to resume restrictions and lockdowns if the resurgence continued. President and chief executive officer Vivek Sankaran told WSJ that the grocer’s management team had begun discussing the matter and would be prepared to act.

Meanwhile, retail pharmacy continued its effort to reignite the vaccination effort. For its part, Walgreens is offering customers incentives to get a free vaccination in the form of a $5 cash reward on a purchase of more than $1. Kroger Health conducted a $5 million #CommunityImmunity Giveaway to spur immunizations. The program gave customers and employees the chance to win one of five $1 million checks or one of 50 “groceries for a year” giveaways. Hy-Vee Inc. this month will host COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the Iowa State Fair.


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