Cases of a dangerous COVID-19 variant are 'rapidly increasing' in U.S., expert says
Published Wednesday, June 16, 2021 7:22AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, June 16, 2021 8:06AM EDT
As U.S. states lift more coronavirus restrictions, experts are worried people who aren't fully vaccinated could contribute to further spread of the virus.
With concerns it could become the dominant strain soon, medical experts are underscoring the importance of full vaccination.
"I'm worried about those who are unvaccinated," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN Tuesday, noting the Delta variant "is rapidly increasing here in the United States."
The CDC has determined the Delta variant is a "variant of concern," a designation given to strains of the virus that scientists believe are more transmissible or can cause more severe disease.
The Delta variant "appears to be significantly more transmissible than even the Alpha variant or the U.K. variant, which is now dominant in the United States," Murthy told CNN.
"The second reason it's concerning is that there is some data to indicate that it may in fact also be more dangerous, may cause more severe illness. That still needs to be understood more clearly, but these are two important concerns and they explain in part ... why this is become the dominant variant in the U.K., where over 90 per cent of cases are the Delta variant," Murthy said.
The good news is that vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant.
A new study by Public Health England found that two doses of a coronavirus vaccine is "highly effective against hospitalization" caused by the Delta variant. The study found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 96 per cent effective against hospitalization after two doses.
Murthy said there isn't enough data to indicate the effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine in regards to the Delta variant, but the vaccine has shown it can help prevent hospitalizations and deaths when people are infected with other strains.
"The key is get vaccinated, get both doses," Murthy said.
As of Tuesday, 43.9 per cent of the total U.S. population was fully vaccinated while 52.6 per cent has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the CDC.
This comes on the heels of the U.S. surpassing 600,000 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That means about one in every 550 people in the U.S. has died from the virus.
STATES CONTINUE TO REOPEN
So far, 14 states have reached Biden's goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of adults with at least one dose by July 4, according to CDC data published Tuesday.
New York is one of the states that reached that milestone, pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift all state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.
Restrictions were lifted across all commercial and social settings, including the requirements on social gatherings, capacity restrictions, social distancing, health screenings, cleaning and disinfection protocols, and contact tracing. Mask requirements will continue in pre-K settings, on public transit and in health care settings, Cuomo said.
Fireworks displays were put on at various locations across the state Tuesday night to celebrate essential workers and the lifting of restrictions.
"This is a momentous day, and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road," Cuomo said. "We can now return to life as we know it."
California also lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday, ending capacity limits, physical distancing and mask requirements for the vaccinated.
Businesses in the state are already adjusting.
The Abbey Food & Bar in West Hollywood brought back dancing, DJs and sitting at the bar for a party to celebrate the end of restrictions. Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers held a "Reopening Day" promo, with 25,000 Justin Turner bobbleheads, to welcome back a full capacity home crowd.
Meanwhile in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan said his state will lift all COVID-19 restrictions and the state of emergency on July 1, including mask requirements. Businesses may still enforce their own requirements, Hogan said.
Maryland has vaccinated 72.3 per cent of its adult population with at least one dose so far, CDC data shows.
Delaware is getting there, with 68.3 per cent of adults having received at least one dose, Gov. John Carney said. He added that his state expects to its COVID-19 state of emergency order on July 13.
"Get vaccinated. Ask your friends and family if they've received their shot. These vaccines are extremely safe and effective," Carney said.
GETTING MORE SHOTS INTO ARMS
Pediatricians are stepping up to not only vaccinate newly eligible children and teens against COVID-19, but adults as well.
One month after Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines, North Carolina, started offering the COVID-19 vaccine, the practice administered 940 doses of the Pfizer vaccine -- 268 went not to patients, but adults over the age of 23.
Dr. Christoph Diasio, a pediatrician at the office, said he offers the vaccine to most patients and their family members.
"I've seen every reaction from arms crossed, basically jumping away from me; 'There's no way I'll get that,' to 'I've been meaning to -- I just haven't been able to get it scheduled yet with work,'" Diasio told CNN.
His office has been offering other routine vaccinations, like the flu shot, to family members of patients for years. He says the practice is fairly common among pediatricians nationwide and can provide some protection for babies who are too young to receive the vaccine themselves.