COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to levels not seen since last winter, erasing months of progress and potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s argument for his sweeping new vaccination requirements. The cases — driven by the delta variant combined with resistance among some Americans to getting the vaccine — are concentrated mostly in the South. While one-time hot spots like Florida and Louisiana are improving, infection rates are soaring in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, fueled by children now back in school, loose mask restrictions and low vaccination levels. The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like January's infection peak: Surgeries canceled in hospitals in Washington state and Utah. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units at or over capacity in Texas. The deteriorating picture nine months into the nation's vaccination drive has angered and frustrated medical professionals who see the heartbreak as preventable. The majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated, in what has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia remains high despite a recent decline and still creates a significant risk the disease could spread through communities, state epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek said Tuesday. Drenzek updated the state Board of Public Health on the spike in COVID cases since the end of June. The increase is being fueled by the delta variant of the virus among people who are unvaccinated. Since the beginning of September, the seven-day average of new cases has fallen. But Drenzek warned the state is coming down from steep peaks, and its hospitals and schools are still facing great strain. The “risk of transmission" through communities remains high, she said. “We’re very much at peak levels even though we’re starting to go down," she said.
At most of the largest U.S. public universities, students are under no obligation to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some schools do require vaccines, but with leniency for those who opt out. Still others have expelled students who do not comply. As a new semester begins amid a resurgence of the coronavirus, administrators and faculty nationwide see high vaccination rates as key to bringing some normalcy back to campus. Where mandates face political opposition, schools are relying on incentives and outreach to get more students vaccinated. An analysis by The Associated Press shows 26 of the nation’s 50 largest public university campuses are not requiring vaccination, representing roughly 55% of students enrolled at those schools. The AP looked at the largest campuses by 2019-2020 enrollment that offer on-campus housing and award bachelor’s degrees.