COVID-19 cases climbing, wiping out months of progress

FILE - In this Monday, April 26, 2021 file phto, a nursing student administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at UNLV in Las Vegas. On Friday, April 30, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it was anxiety —
FILE - In this Monday, April 26, 2021 file phto, a nursing student administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at UNLV in Las Vegas. AP

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed to levels not seen since last winter.

Posted: Sep 14, 2021 1:11 PM
Updated: Sep 14, 2021 1:26 PM

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the U.S. have climbed back to levels not seen since last winter, wiping out 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 get 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 vast majority of the dead and the hospitalized have been unvaccinated. That has proved to be a hard lesson for some families.

“The problem now is we have been trying to educate based on science, but I think most of the education that is happening now is based on tragedy, personal tragedy," said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

In Kentucky, 70% of the state’s hospitals -- 66 of 96 -- are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level yet during the pandemic, the governor said.

“Our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.

The U.S. is averaging over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels respectively since early March and late January. And both figures have been on the rise over the past two weeks.

The nation is dispensing about 900,000 shots of the vaccine per day, well below the peak of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the U.S. should begin dispensing booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to shore up people's protection.

On a positive note, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 appears to be leveling off or even declining at around 90,000, or about where things stood in February.

The outbreak in the U.S. topped out in January at an average of about 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day. That was just weeks into the nation's vaccination drive. A precipitous drop followed, extending into the spring before creeping back up with the rise of the more contagious delta variant.

Last week, the president ordered all employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

“We read about and hear about and we see the stories of hospitalized people, people on their deathbeds among the unvaccinated over the past few weeks," Biden said in announcing the rules. "This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

The requirements have met with resistance and threats of lawsuits from Republicans.

Stanton, the ER doctor in Kentucky, said he has admitted families where the delta variant has swept through generations, especially if the older members are unvaccinated.

“Now in Kentucky, one-third of new cases are under age 18,” he said. Some children brought it home from summer camp and spread it to the rest of the family, and now, “between day care and schools and school activities, and friends getting together, there are just so many exposures.”

In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients fill intensive care units, and one hospital contacted 43 others in three states to find a specialty cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin DeMonia. It wasn't fast enough. The 73-year-old died Sept. 1.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies,” his family pleaded in his obituary.

In Hidalgo County, Texas, along the Mexican border, about 50 patients were in the hospital with COVID-19 on a given day in July. By early August, the number had soared to over 600.

“Back in July we were almost celebrating. Little did we know,” said Ivan Melendez, public health authority for Hidalgo County. The situation has improved somewhat, with just under 300 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, but ICUs are still above 90% capacity, Melendez said.

“We have not turned the corner,” Melendez said. “Double digits of people, double digits are dying every day."

The biggest surge over the summer occurred in states that had low vaccination rates, particularly in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and are breathing recirculated air, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

Heading into colder months, states farther north with low vaccination rates, especially in the Midwest, are likely to see upticks.

“I don’t think it’s going to come all the way back down,” Marr said. “I think it’s going to kind of stay at the simmering level as it works its way through the unvaccinated population in the other states. And it’ll work its way north because in the wintertime, people are heating and then you get that same issue of recirculating the air indoors.”

Vaccination rates are not as low in some of the Northern states, but “there’s still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. Delta is going to find them,” Marr said.

And vaccinated people are still not in the clear. Shri Amarnath said her father got sick during a business trip to Georgia just before his Aug. 31 retirement and had to miss his last day of work and retirement festivities.

After he had been symptom-free for 48 hours, the family left for a lake house in Tennessee. Everyone was vaccinated. But Amarnath's mother started feeling sick during the trip and tested positive.

Everyone else is quarantining and planning to get tested or retested, said Amaranth, who lives in Indianapolis.

“Everyone is kind of like on alert, waiting to see who’s next,” she said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 697182

Reported Deaths: 8169
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1427711862
Ramsey59431953
Dakota53075503
Anoka48987486
Washington31228315
Stearns25428242
St. Louis20900339
Scott20039146
Wright18954165
Olmsted16269112
Sherburne13840106
Carver1237052
Clay936897
Rice9278125
Blue Earth888747
Crow Wing8070102
Kandiyohi753292
Chisago733858
Otter Tail689897
Benton6653102
Mower576238
Winona564852
Goodhue560581
Douglas549484
Beltrami534672
Itasca532572
Steele520221
McLeod519665
Isanti500470
Morrison478263
Nobles455650
Becker455060
Polk444575
Freeborn438142
Lyon402454
Carlton399160
Nicollet387848
Pine384026
Mille Lacs363860
Brown358244
Cass355536
Le Sueur348230
Todd333034
Meeker314049
Waseca297626
Martin271633
Wabasha25005
Dodge24865
Hubbard241941
Roseau238224
Houston211217
Redwood206642
Fillmore204510
Renville204248
Pennington196022
Wadena192927
Faribault184925
Sibley180310
Cottonwood179424
Chippewa173439
Kanabec168329
Aitkin159239
Watonwan157211
Rock142919
Jackson136112
Pope13378
Yellow Medicine128720
Pipestone126126
Koochiching125119
Swift120319
Murray117610
Stevens110011
Clearwater109218
Marshall107619
Lake94321
Wilkin91014
Lac qui Parle89424
Mahnomen7339
Big Stone7024
Grant6938
Norman6829
Lincoln6724
Kittson54222
Unassigned52893
Red Lake5067
Traverse4375
Lake of the Woods4204
Cook2150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 443535

Reported Deaths: 6420
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk69441683
Linn26618363
Scott23312265
Black Hawk19397338
Woodbury17483233
Johnson1698692
Dubuque14775221
Pottawattamie13369186
Dallas13048102
Story1211448
Warren707893
Webster6479103
Cerro Gordo6370105
Clinton635898
Des Moines618084
Muscatine5985109
Marshall586981
Sioux547676
Jasper532076
Lee529084
Wapello5230128
Unassigned50150
Buena Vista479442
Marion464086
Plymouth442185
Henry351341
Jones341159
Bremer331365
Washington330454
Crawford326844
Carroll326553
Benton325756
Boone318636
Mahaska282754
Dickinson276547
Kossuth257471
Clay255629
Jackson253844
Tama246073
Hardin244547
Buchanan244238
Delaware240143
Cedar228025
Fayette227945
Page225724
Wright221741
Winneshiek219237
Hamilton216752
Harrison205476
Madison199920
Clayton199758
Floyd195742
Butler191936
Poweshiek188837
Mills188225
Iowa185927
Cherokee184740
Allamakee181152
Jefferson178238
Lyon178041
Calhoun172213
Hancock170336
Winnebago170131
Cass164356
Louisa161651
Grundy161335
Appanoose158149
Shelby156539
Emmet153241
Franklin152224
Humboldt151626
Union149937
Sac147922
Mitchell146143
Guthrie142132
Chickasaw141618
Palo Alto134527
Clarke130226
Montgomery127940
Keokuk121332
Monroe118733
Howard118422
Ida109838
Davis105025
Greene103012
Pocahontas102623
Monona99034
Lucas98523
Adair97734
Worth9558
Osceola84717
Decatur76710
Fremont76511
Van Buren75221
Taylor73412
Wayne66323
Ringgold63027
Audubon60114
Adams4254
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