Health officials say the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge and accounts for an estimated 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases.
That’s a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the variant accounted for about 50% of genetically sequenced coronavirus cases.
“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday.
The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world.
Also on Tuesday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert is suggesting parents follow new COVID-19 guidance for mask-wearing issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The academy is recommending schools require face masks for children older than 2 and all adults — regardless of vaccination status. Dr. Anthony Fauci told “CBS This Morning” the academy wants to “go the extra mile” to make sure kids are protected at school because of the rise in cases blamed on the delta variant of the coronavirus.
That guidance is slightly different from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has advised mask-wearing in schools just for unvaccinated children and adults.
Fauci says the CDC is “carefully looking” at its COVID-19 school guidance.
Last week, Walensky said the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. is becoming “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The COVID-19 curve in the U.S. is rising again after months of decline, with the number of new cases per day doubling over the past four weeks, driven by the delta variant, lagging vaccination rates and Fourth of July gatherings.
Confirmed infections climbed to an average of about 23,600 a day on Monday, up from 11,300 on June 23, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And all but two states — Maine and South Dakota — reported that case numbers have gone up over the past two weeks.
At the same time, parts of the country are running up against deep vaccine resistance, while the highly contagious mutant version of the coronavirus that was first detected in India is accounting for an ever-larger share of infections.
Nationally, 55.6% of all Americans have received at least one COVID-19 shot, according to the CDC. The five states with the biggest two-week jump in cases per capita all had lower vaccination rates: Missouri, 45.9%; Arkansas, 43%; Nevada, 50.9%; Louisiana, 39.2%; and Utah, 49.5%.
Even with the latest surge, cases in the U.S. are nowhere near their peak of a quarter-million per day in January. And deaths are running at under 260 per day on average after topping out at more than 3,400 over the winter — a testament to how effectively the vaccine can prevent serious illness and death in those who happen to become infected.