Twenty four states have seen an uptick of at least 10% in Covid-19 cases over the past week as health experts and the federal government keep pressing for more people to get vaccinated.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has only ratcheted up the pressure.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that the variant, first identified in India, has accounted for more than half of all new Covid-19 infections in the country.
“We should think about the Delta variant as the 2020 version of Covid-19 on steroids,” Andy Slavitt, a former senior adviser to Joe Biden’s Covid Response Team, told CNN on Wednesday. “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.”
For fully vaccinated people, the variant “presents very little threat to you, very unlikely that you’re gonna get sick,” he explained.
Slavitt and other experts have said full approval for vaccines from the US Food and Drug Administration could encourage more people to get vaccinated. The current vaccines distributed in the US are authorized for emergency use only. On Tuesday, Slavitt said full approval for the Pfizer vaccine could come as early as this month.
As of Wednesday, less than half of the US population is fully vaccinated.
In a grim reminder of the scale of the pandemic, data from Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday showed that more than 4 million people around the world have died of Covid-19.
In total, three countries account for more than a third of all global deaths. The US, which has the highest number of fatalities at 606,000, accounts for 15% of the global total, followed by Brazil and India.
Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Wearing face masks, people walk through Union Station in Los Angeles on June 29, 2021. California is one of the 24 states seeing an uptick in Covid-19 cases.
But the Delta variant is not the only one worrying health experts.
“I will tell you right now you want to look at who’s getting sick, whether from the Delta variant or any other variant: It’s people who haven’t been vaccinated,” Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN on Wednesday.
“I don’t want it to come to this, but I am hopeful that these surges will drive more people in those states with low vaccination rates to finally go out and get their shot.”
Ranney, who is an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital and an associate professor at Brown University, added that vaccinated people don’t have much to worry about, but she offered an unsettling insight on the current surge of cases.
“What worries me more are the variants yet to come, and every time this virus is passed from one person to another, it has a chance to mutate. And it’s only a matter of time until we have a variant against which the vaccines no longer protect us,” she explained.
Some experts have begun asking whether it may be time to start testing vaccinated people to ensure the Delta variant does not evade the effects of vaccines.
Current federal guidelines say fully vaccinated people can refrain from routine testing. Studies and experts have also said the vaccines are still highly protective.
“I think now we should revisit this policy with the Delta variant and determine if the current recommendations hold up,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, wrote in an email to CNN on Wednesday.
The CDC is only reporting data on “breakthrough” infections that cause severe disease. That could mean scientists and health officials will not know how many vaccinated people have mild or asymptomatic infections – and it will be very difficult to track whether a new variant such as Delta is causing more vaccine failure.
In a move to get more shots into arms, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state will provide $1 million in college scholarships beginning July 12 for people between 12 and 17 who get vaccinated.
“I cannot imagine a better incentive than a college education,” said Dr. Jay Perman, the chancellor of Maryland’s university system.
Two scholarships will be awarded every week for eight weeks through Labor Day, Hogan said, when four winners will be picked. Hogan said the winners will receive a Maryland 529 prepaid college trust contract, which locks in today’s tuition rates for the future, or a Maryland 529 College investment plan.
The incentive is an effort by the state’s Department of Health and the Department of Higher Education.
More than half of Marylanders between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated, state health data shows.
The announcement comes as the state said in a tweet all Covid-19 deaths in Maryland last month occurred in unvaccinated people
Additionally, 95% of new Covid-19 cases in the state – as well as 93% of new hospitalizations – occurred in people who were unvaccinated, according to Michael Ricci, communications director for the governor.
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Jacqueline Howard, Keri Enriquez, Virginia Langmaid and Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this report.