US coronavirus cases rising sharply as Delta variant spreads
Coronavirus cases in the United States have once again begun rising as the highly-contagious Delta variant has spread further and vaccinations have considerably slowed down in the past couple of months. As of July 6, the weekly average of new infections was 13,859, up as much as 21% compared to just 14 days before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Twenty-four US states have seen a rise of at least 10% in COVID-19 cases over the past week, CNN reported. The significant spike comes even as there was low testing across the US during and after the July 4 holiday weekend, which marked the American Independence Day. CDC says the Delta variant now accounts for around 52% of all new infections in the country.
Delta, also known by its formal scientific name B.1.617.2, is said to be the most infectious coronavirus variant identified yet. It was first detected in India last year and was behind the country's deadly second wave of the pandemic earlier this year. Some studies also suggest the variant may partially evade the immunity generated by the body after prior infection or vaccination.
Highlighting the threat posed by the variant, a former senior advisor to President Joe Biden's COVID-19 response team said, "We should think about the Delta variant as the 2020 version of COVID-19 on steroids." "It's twice as infectious. Fortunately, unlike 2020, we actually have a tool that stops the Delta variant in its tracks: It's called vaccine," Andy Slavitt told CNN earlier this week.
It is important to assess hospitalizations rather than infections in general, Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. "Increasingly, I think we have to start to shift our focus away from cases and really look at hospitalizations, because that's what the vaccine was designed to do - it was designed to decouple cases from hospitalization," Adalja said, according to AFP.
The US has plenty of vaccine stocks and currently has one of the highest immunization rates across the globe, however, the pace of vaccination has slowed down over the past few months. Over 67% of all American adults have received at least one shot of the vaccine while 58% adults are fully vaccinated. Of the total population, more than 47% have been fully vaccinated.
Several vaccines have proven effective against emerging variants, including Delta. For instance, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective against symptomatic infection caused by the Delta variant, two weeks after the second dose. Moderna's vaccine has also been found effective against this strain. Johnson & Johnson said earlier this month its vaccine also provides reliable protection against the variant.
In another grim reminder of the destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, global deaths from the disease have now crossed four million (40 lakh). But three countries account for more than a third of all the reported fatalities. They are the US (over 6 lakh deaths), followed by Brazil (over 5 lakh) and India (over 4 lakh).