KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The number of new coronavirus cases is rising in every state, sparking growing concern from health officials who warn the pandemic in the United States is far from over, even though the national outlook is distant better than in previous increases.
The 160 million fully vaccinated people across the country are largely protected against the virus, including the highly contagious Delta variant, scientists say. In the Upper Midwest, Northeast, and West Coast – including Chicago, Boston and San Francisco – coronavirus infections remain relatively low.
But the picture is different in pockets of the country where residents are vaccinated at lower rates. Hot spots have emerged in recent weeks in parts of Missouri, Arkansas and Nevada, among other states, leaving hospital workers tense as they deal with an influx of coronavirus patients. Less than a month after reports of new cases hit the nationwide low of around 11,000 per day, cases of the virus overall are on the rise again, with around 26,000 new cases per day, and hospitalizations are on the rise. increase. .
The country is at an inflection point and experts have said it is not sure what will come next. While the number of cases and hospitalizations nationwide remains relatively low, more and more local hot spots are appearing and national trends are heading in the wrong direction. Many of the oldest and most vulnerable Americans are already vaccinated, but the vaccination campaign has failed in recent weeks.
“It will definitely be a push,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It won’t be as important as what happened in January. But we still have 100 million people in the United States who are susceptible to Covid-19. “
Critical care beds in hospitals have become scarce in parts of Missouri, where Springfield officials on Wednesday requested an alternative care site. In Mississippi, where cases have increased by 70% in the past two weeks, health officials have urged seniors to avoid large gatherings indoors even if they have been vaccinated. And in Los Angeles County, officials said Thursday that masks would be mandatory indoors again, regardless of vaccination status, due to the spread of the Delta variant.
The slowdown in the vaccination effort has amplified concerns. About 530,000 people now receive a vaccine every day, a steep drop from the 3.3 million vaccines per day in April. Less than half of the population of the United States has been fully immunized.
However, the country’s prognosis remains better than at previous points in the pandemic. Vaccines are widely available, cases and hospitalizations remain at a tiny fraction of their peaks, and deaths are occurring at some of the lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic.
Still, the number of daily cases has increased in all 50 states, including 19 states that report at least twice as many new cases per day.
Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri, where cases are increasing but remain well below levels in other parts of the state, said he was concerned the outbreak in southwest Missouri could continue to spread, given the low vaccination rates there. He said strong recommendations for mask wear – or even new warrants – may become necessary if the outlook for his city continues to deteriorate.
“I think when you start to see Springfield-level hospitalizations here on the Kansas City subway, then we’ll have to really ask ourselves whether it’s time to revert to the previous restrictions,” Mr. Lucas said.
In a series of press conferences this week, public health officials pleaded with those who have not received a vaccine to change their mind, urging them to consider coronavirus vaccines safe, free and available. for anyone aged 12 and over.
“To anyone who has hesitated to get vaccinated, please I beg you not to hesitate any longer,” said Dr Kiran Joshi, chief medical officer of the Cook County Public Health Department, which serves on Thursday. the suburbs of Chicago.
Even in places in the United States that have yet to see a significant rise in infections, governors and public health officials feared their states were vulnerable to an outbreak.
“I hope and pray that he doesn’t come to West Virginia and absolutely cross our state like a savage,” said Governor Jim Justice, whose state has recorded relatively few cases recently but. has a low vaccination rate. . “But there’s a good chance it is.”
Few places are more worrying than in Missouri, where an increase in the number of unvaccinated people has forced hospitals to scramble to keep up.
Just two months ago, when there were only 15 active coronavirus cases in his southwestern Missouri county, Larry Bergner, the director of the Newton County health department, had hoped that the end of the pandemic is in sight.
This does not happen.
As the Delta variant has spread across the country, it has spiked the number of cases in Newton County, where less than 20% of residents are fully vaccinated. Mr. Bergner County now has a higher rate of recent cases than any state.
“It gives, I guess, some depression to think we thought we were going to get out of it, now it’s off again, how far are we going to get,” Bergner said.
In Milwaukee County, where 48% of residents are fully vaccinated, the health department has tried to increase the number by setting up a vaccination site outside of the Fiserv Forum, where the Milwaukee Bucks play in the final of the NBA. Fewer than two dozen people received a vaccine each day the site was in place, said Dr Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Emergency Management Office.
“In March, people flocked to our vaccination sites – all we had to do was open a door,” Dr Weston said. “Now we have to go out and find people. “
As the number of cases slowly increases, a sense of worry has started to set in among some Americans, even those who are fully vaccinated.
Vince Palmieri, 89, who travels around Los Angeles on public transport, said he worried when he saw other runners not wearing masks as required. Although per capita case rates remain relatively low in Los Angeles County, they have risen sharply in recent weeks. The county averages about 1,000 new cases per day, up from less than 200 per day in mid-June.
“Once you get on a bus or train, you are in no man’s land,” said Mr Palmieri, who continues to wear a mask. “Their sneezing might get someone out, but I’m afraid to talk about the disease because people get ugly.”
Debora Weems, 63, who lives in New York City, is closely monitoring the number of cases. His anxiety about the virus has increased along with the cases. New York City, which averaged less than 200 new cases per day in late June and early July, now has an average of more than 400 per day, well below past peaks.
“I’m just afraid we have to close again,” Ms. Weems said. She and her 85-year-old mother are vaccinated, but now fears their protection may not be enough.
When the number of cases was at its lowest, she moved more freely around the city, not wondering if people nearby were vaccinated. But now she is trying to avoid leaving her neighborhood and recently put up a new sign on her apartment door with a request that she and her mother are not receiving visitors because of Covid-19.
Mitch smith reported from Kansas City, and Julie bosman from Chicago. Matt craig contributed to Los Angeles reporting, and Sophie Kasakové from New York.