Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, warned Sunday that “things will get worse” with “pain and suffering ahead” in the current surge in COVID-19 cases in the US, primarily driven by the Delta variant.
“Are we headed towards a period once again where we’re going to see lockdowns, businesses shut down, masks routine for everybody, or is this potentially just a temporary setback?,” ABC’s Jon Karl asked Fauci on Sunday morning.
“Jon, I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns. I think we have enough of the percentage of people in the country, not enough to crush the outbreak, but I believe enough to allow us to not get into the situation we were in last winter,” Fauci said. “But things are going to get worse. If you look at the numbers, the seven-day average has gone up substantially.”
Fauci added that “we are seeing an outbreak of the unvaccinated,” highlighting the efficacy of vaccines against COVID-19 illness.
“We’re looking not towards lockdown, but we’re looking towards some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up, which is why we’re saying over and over again that the solution to this is to get vaccinated, and this would not be happening,” Fauci said.
Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have risen by 148%, hospitalizations by 73%, and deaths by 13% over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database, primarily driven by the contagious Delta variant.
Currently, 44 US states and the District of Columbia have substantial or high COVID-19 spread, according to CDC data, are thus subject to the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors.
The Delta surge is hitting communities with the lowest vaccination rates the hardest, spurring new, urgent efforts to get reluctant Americans vaccinated.
Hundreds of staffers at two major hospitals in San Francisco have tested positive for coronavirus in July, with most of them being breakthrough cases of the highly infectious Delta variant, The New York Times reported Saturday evening.
The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center told media outlets that 183 of its 35,000 staffers tested positive. Of those infected, 84% were fully vaccinated, and just two vaccinated staff members required hospitalization for their symptoms.
At Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, at least 50 members out of the total 7,500 hospital staff were infected, with 75-80% of them vaccinated. None of those staffers required hospitalization.
UCSF’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lukejohn Day, told The Times the numbers from his hospital showed just how important and effective vaccinations are.
“What we’re seeing is very much what the data from the vaccines showed us: You can still get COVID, potentially. But if you do get it, it’s not severe at all,” Day said.
Day also told ABC7 News that at least 99% of the cases at UCSF were traced back to community spread, but that hospital officials are still investigating and conducting contact tracing.
He added that most of the cases presented mild to moderate symptoms, and some were completely asymptomatic. He said the cases were spread among doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff.
“We sort of are seeing that across the board,” he said. “We have so far not detected any patient-to-staff or staff-to-patient transmission right now.”
The highly infectious Delta variant has been deemed more transmissible than the viruses that cause the common cold, Ebola, and smallpox, and is equally as contagious as chickenpox, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in internal documents.
The Delta variant has also been known to spread among vaccinated people in breakthrough cases, prompting the agency this week to recommend that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high transmission rates.
The CDC emphasized that getting vaccinated is still highly beneficial and is a crucial component to combatting the coronavirus – even the Delta variant.
“Getting vaccinated continues to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even with Delta,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told media on Tuesday.
GOP Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on Thursday attempted to shift blame to President Joe Biden for the state’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate as the highly-infectious Delta variant continues to spread, according to The Associated Press.
While speaking to reporters, Kemp said that Biden needed to push harder to allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to upgrade its emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccines to full approval.
Kemp, who won his first race for governor in 2018, also stated that asking people to wear masks once again sends a “mixed message” and might cause people not to take the vaccine.
He encouraged Georgians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he would look into other solutions if hospitals in the state became overwhelmed with patients.
“We know that the vaccines work,” Kemp said on Thursday. “I want to encourage people to get vaccinated if you’re comfortable doing that.”
Democratic state Sen. Michelle Au, an anesthesiologist, told The Associated Press that the state needed to do more to increase access to the vaccine and promote testing among residents who are unvaccinated.
“We aren’t trying hard enough,” Au told the news organization. “We like to blame the unvaccinated.”
On Thursday, Georgia posted over 4,800 positive COVID-19 tests, a high-point that was last reached in early February, when the vaccine wasn’t as readily available to the general public.
With the Delta variant spreading throughout Georgia, similar to the US as a whole, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state rose above 1,800.
COVID-19 infection rates have remained elevated in southeast Georgia.
Charlton County Administrator Hampton Raulerson told The Brunswick News that interest in the vaccines has not been robust.
“There’s a lot of distrust when it comes to the vaccine,” he said. “A lot of people thought (COVID-19) was going away.”
Kemp said that many people are reluctant to take the vaccine since it has still not been fully approved by the FDA.
“I’d love to see the Biden administration put an ‘Operation Warp Speed’ on moving away from the emergency use authorization,” he said on Thursday, referring to the Trump-era public-private vaccine development initiative that manufactured and distributed COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation, told The Washington Post on Friday that the agency is redeploying staff to accelerate their effort in fully approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“This will remove one more layer for the vaccine-hesitant,” Marks said.“If all this does is get five to 10 million more people vaccinations down south, that will save lives.”
The CDC earlier this week shifted their guidelines on mask-wearing, recommending face coverings for vaccinated people indoors in areas with high transmission of the virus.
Kemp said that the CDC’s new guidance didn’t inspire confidence.
“When you tell them they can get vaccinated and then take their mask off and then you turn around weeks later and reverse that, who’s gonna trust anybody, any politician, Republican, Democrat, or otherwise?” he said.
On a recent Saturday night in July, the vibrations of EDM music pulsating from bars and nightclubs along Atlantic Avenue drifted into the palm fronds and sliced through the humid Florida air.
In the heart of Palm Beach County, a throng of 20-somethings snaked down the block outside The Office, a local nightlife venue in Delray Beach, poised to elbow their way toward the crowded bar and order rounds of shots.
Across the road at Taverna Opa, another late-night party scene, a DJ spun some tracks to a crowd of dozens as belly dancers stood on top of wooden tables and swerved through the air.
During the worst surges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida hotspots like these have counted on the loyalty of one oftentimes carefree constituency: local college students who, come Saturday night, are ready to get lit.
“I don’t think I can really name a whole lot of people that don’t go out,” Nicole Prescott, 23, a drama student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, told Insider. She’s noticed that masks have been a rarity throughout the spring and summer on the few occasions she’s gone out with friends since receiving her Pfizer shots.
“Being so lax about protocols and just letting people go through life however they want with COVID is really dangerous,” she added.
Across Florida, the highly-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is surging. As of July 30, more than 38,000 new COVID cases were reported in the state, versus 2,319 one month before, according to a database maintained by the New York Times.
On a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map which designates counties as red zones if they’ve experienced high levels of community spread, all of Florida is illustrated in crimson. Less than half of the adult population has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Nevertheless, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed an executive order in May which ended all mask mandates local governments in the state had imposed on their residents. In September, he rolled back restrictions on restaurants’ operating capacity, months before vaccines were available.
On Friday, DeSantis issued another executive order, this one prohibiting schools from requiring mask-wearing in the classroom, even after the CDC recommended this week that K-12 students and staff do exactly the opposite.
‘They’re just going out and not caring at all’
Insider interviewed seven undergrads from five universities throughout the state: the University of Miami, the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida State University in Tallahassee, Palm Beach State College, and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
In spite of the virus’ growing threat, the consensus from these students was that the party is far from over.
For Brianna Pope, 20, a Palm Beach State College nursing major, the nightclubs in Fort Lauderdale’s cosmopolitan Las Olas district are the most tempting draw.
Weekend nights out typically begin around 10 P.M., she told Insider. On the dance floors of popular hotspots, masks aren’t part of the dress code.
“They’re just going out and not caring at all,” Pope said. “When you go down there, there’s really no one wearing masks or anyone taking precautions.”
Schools vary on requirements for masking or social distancing as the semester begins
The University of Florida, a state school in Gainesville, is known as much for its athletic culture as for its undergrads’ hard-charging party scene.
In an emailed statement on Saturday, a spokesperson for the university told Insider that classes will resume in-person this semester without physical distancing. Wearing masks will be optional, though vaccines are highly encouraged for students, faculty, and staff.
At Palm Beach State College, which operates multiple sites throughout the county, the school strongly recommends face coverings on campus, inside classrooms and offices, and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible, according to an internal email sent in late July by administrators which reviewed by Insider.
Spokespersons for Palm Beach State College did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Saturday.
Fears are mounting over what the fall semester could bring
The very real prospect of coronavirus outbreaks in student residences has some housing administrators putting preemptive restrictions into place.
Insider reviewed an email sent by Shawn Woodin, president and CEO of the Southern Scholarship Foundation, which provides off-campus housing for 470 students in cities including Tallahassee and Gainesville.
The email, sent on July 29, informed students that face coverings would be required within any of its 26 housing sites where fewer than 80% of residents are fully vaccinated. Having guests will be forbidden in any of those houses.
When reached by phone on Saturday, Woodin told Insider that fewer than 50% of residents ages 18-23 reported that they had been fully inoculated against the virus, based on data he’d reviewed.
“Based on the spring semester, I know that, as college students, some of our residents were going to parties, gatherings, that should have not have happened,” Woodin said. “Will those behaviors continue? I hope not, but it’s likely some of our residents will.”
Nevertheless, some students are wary of what the autumn semester may have in store as school gets underway.
“Some students might ignore the CDC guidelines and prioritize having fun,” said Daniel Gallup, 20, a student at the University of Florida who received the Pfizer vaccine in March.
“But I’m going to follow the recommendations,” he added, “because going out isn’t worth getting sick and spreading it to anyone else, especially people I care about.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed an executive order Friday that prohibits schools in the state from requiring students to wear face masks when they return to classrooms in the fall.
The executive order, released Friday, is “effective immediately” and directs the Florida Departments of Health and Education to release emergency rules that stipulate that decisions over whether students will be masked in classrooms will be left up to parents rather than school officials.
According to the order, schools that do not comply with the directives from the Education and Health Departments run the risk of losing funding from the state.
“We think that’s the most fair way to do it,” DeSantis said Friday at an event at an Italian restaurant in Cape Coral, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a press release announcing the order.
“Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children,” he added.
DeSantis’ order Friday comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended that students and staff at K-12 schools wear masks in the classroom regardless of their vaccination status, as Insider previously reported.
The CDC guidance came amid a broader shift at the agency, which this week recommended that fully vaccinated individuals mask up indoors in areas of the US with high levels of COVID-19 transmission. The CDC in May said that fully vaccinated individuals could ditch their masks in most settings.
The changes, the CDC said, were due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the disease, which is at least partially responsible for the ongoing surge of cases in the US.
“Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that, on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”
The US on Friday reported more than 122,000 new cases of the disease, according to data analyzed by The New York Times – the highest single-day increase in more than five months. The state of Florida this week neared its worst COVID-19 week of all time, reporting more than 110,000 new infections over the past seven days, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The United States reported more than 122,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday – the highest number of new cases reported in a single day since early February, according to data analyzed by The New York Times.
A number of new cases as high as the number reported Friday – 122,674 – hasn’t been reported in more than five months since February 5, when more than 129,000 new infections were reported, according to the data.
The highest number of new cases of all time in the US was reported in early January when more than 259,000 cases of the disease were reported, according to the Times. While the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has steadily declined since then due to the availability of vaccines that began rolling out late last year, the Delta variant has again caused the disease to surge.
Deaths in the US have ticked up 10% over the last two weeks, according to the Times data, while hospitalizations have increased 74% over the past 14 days.
While people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can become infected with the disease in what is known as a breakthrough infection, experts say the vaccines work well at preventing serious illness and death.
The vast majority of deaths are among unvaccinated Americans, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with NBC earlier in July.
“Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that, on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said Tuesday.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” she added.
Restaurant dining rooms are reopening in most of the US, but Americans are still drive-thru devotees.
Major fast-food brands reported quarterly earnings this week, and executives made it clear that drive-thrus are still huge for business.
Yum Brands Chief Financial Officer Chris Turner emphasized Taco Bell’s drive-thru success over the last quarter to investors in an earnings call. “The drive-thru experience is an increasingly critical competitive advantage for our brands,” he said, noting that drive-thru times improved by six seconds year over year even as the chain served four million more cars.
Taco Bell has increasingly prioritized drive-thrus over the last 18 months and made some major changes to improve the drive-thru experience. To some customers’ dismay, last year the chain cut over a dozen items, including potatoes and and Nachos Supreme, to shorten wait times. The cuts paid off – in the third quarter of 2020, Taco Bell served 30 million more customers than in all of 2019, and each order was completed 17 seconds faster.
Starbucks similarly credits its drive-thrus with the chain’s strong recovery as pandemic restrictions eased. “We continue to see strong sales recovery in the rural and suburban areas of the business, and in particular drive-thru,” Group President, North America and COO John Culver told investors.
Culver said that Starbucks is focusing on decreasing drive-thru wait times for customers. The chain has been testing new strategies for keeping drive-thru wait times down, even as customizations remain popular and average ticket size is elevated. Baristas can take orders through digital drive-thru screens, which the company previously said are installed at about 3,800 stores. Finally, Starbucks is also renovating 150 US drive-thrus that are space-constrained to make them more efficient, Culver said.
McDonald’s also emphasized the importance of drive-thrus in an earnings call. CEO Chris Kempczinski began the call by talking about the “iconic” McDonald’s experience and referencing how the chain pioneered drive-thrus in the early 1970s. He touted McDonald’s improved drive-thru times, which have shortened by 30 seconds in the last several years, with a slight three-second setback this year. He says times are still improving, though hurt by the labor shortage.
Like its competitors, McDonald’s is also investing in drive-thrus to make them even fast and more efficient. McDonald’s corporate has been pushing franchisees to upgrade drive-thrus since 2019 after years of increasingly long wait times. Since then, many of the chain’s 14,000 US drive-thrus now have double lanes, which are key to reducing bottlenecks. McDonald’s is also still working with AI technology in drive-thrus from the startup it bought in 2019, Aprente. Kempczinski said that the technology is in ten drive-thrus right now.
But in the UK, where 71.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, the new surge is not bringing the same death toll as past coronavirus waves.
The UK government’s coronavirus dashboard features daily counts of positive COVID-19 tests and deaths. A comparison of those two data sets shows how the relationship between infections and deaths has changed over time.
Throughout July, the ratio of deaths to cases in the UK has remained much lower than it was at any prior point of the pandemic.
In the early days of the UK’s first wave last spring, the ratio of deaths to cases shot up. Similarly, in the wave seen last winter, that ratio rose notably again.
The UK’s latest surge began in June. By July 1, the seven-day average of new cases had grown to nearly six times what it was on June 1. The new wave is producing almost as many daily cases as the surge the UK saw in January. But deaths have not risen nearly as much.
The low ratio is probably because of vaccines, which have proven highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths.
A UK study found that two doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines were 88% and 67% effective, respectively, at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 from the Delta variant – the UK’s dominant strain.
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have both said that lab tests suggest their vaccines are also highly effective against Delta, though peer-reviewed research on those shots’ real-world effectiveness in the face of Delta has not yet been published.
Overall, the effectiveness of widespread vaccination is evident in the UK’s shrinking ratio of deaths to cases over time. In early February, just 1% of the UK population was fully vaccinated, and about 25% of the population had received one dose. During that time, the UK counted an average of five deaths for every 100 new cases.
Now that the UK is 71.8% vaccinated against COVID-19 – and 88.4% of people have received at least one dose – the death-to-cases ratio is nearly zero.
More than four-in-10 Republicans (45%) support a universal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to a new survey conducted by The COVID States Project.
The survey also found that a strong majority of Americans (64%) would support a universal vaccine mandate across the US. Most Americans (70%) supported a vaccine requirement for getting on a plane, as well as requiring one for allowing children to go back to school (61%), and mandating one for college students to go back to university (66%).
Republicans were the only subgroup in which a majority did not support a universal mandate. Comparatively, 84% of Democrats support a universal mandate, the poll showed.
The survey of 20,669 people was conducted across all 50 states and Washington, DC, from June 9 to July 7.
Polling has consistently shown that Republican voters are among the most hesitant Americans when it comes to getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, GOP politicians in Washington continue to push misinformation on vaccines, as they rail against mask mandates and other restrictions. But a number of GOP governors, as well as some prominent Republicans in Washington like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have recently ramped up efforts to urge people to get vaccinated – breaking from the vaccine skeptics in their party.
A universal mandate has not been proposed by leaders at the federal or state level, but there have been more specific requirements issued at various levels. But the Biden administration on Thursday did issue new rules for federal workers attest to their vaccination status or submit to testing and other measures. The Pentagon said members of the military would be subject to the same protocols.
Though the US appeared to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccinations ramped up, the rate of vaccinations has plateaued across the county and cases have spiked in recent weeks due to the extraordinarily contagious Delta variant. The rise in cases has been driven by unvaccinated people, according to public health experts. This is prompting a new conversation about vaccine incentives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new mask guidance this week amid concerns over the Delta variant, recommending that everyone – including vaccinated people – wear masks in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial and high transmission.
The CDC on Friday issued a report that said vaccinated people with breakthrough cases of the Delta variant may spread the virus to others as easily as unvaccinated people. The agency said the “concerning” finding “was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation.” But breakthrough cases are still thought to be rare, and the vaccine has shown to be highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
“Vaccinated and unvaccinated people infected with delta have higher viral loads, meaning more virus in their body, than with previous variants,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday. “High viral loads mean you are more likely to spread it, so in the rare occasions that vaccinated people get delta in a breakthrough infection, they may be contagious, and this is what we heard from CDC this week.”
Michael Freedy, known as “Big Mike” by coworkers and friends, died of complications from COVID-19 this Thursday, according to his family. Before passing, the father of 5 texted his fiancée Jessica DuPreez: “I should have gotten the damn vaccine.”
“We wanted to wait just one year from the release to see what effects people had, but there was never any intention to not get it,” DuPreez told Las Vegas’ Fox affiliate.
DuPreez is not alone. About 40% of people over the age of 18 in the US have not been vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number one reason adults cite for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine is wanting to “wait and see” if the vaccine has any long-term side effects before receiving the shot, according to KFF’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor.
“I am not aware of any vaccine where the first set of negative effects show up past eight weeks after immunization,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on the school’s website. “The biology of how vaccines work suggests that it would not make sense for a new side effect to show up five years later.”
Doctors are flagging the very real dangers of vaccine hesitancy, with one Arkansas doctor delivering an emotional plea that described the “regret and remorse” on the faces of patients dying with COVID-19, Insider’s Mia Jankowicz reported.
“I have had to call multiple fathers and mothers of preschoolers – in their 20s and 30s – and tell them that their spouse may very well not survive this hospitalization,” he said.
Freedy began feeling unwell following a trip to the beach; they thought he had come down with sun poisoning. After testing positive for COVID-19, he was admitted to the ICU with double pneumonia and placed on a ventilator.
“His numbers crashed and they were not able to bring them back up,” DuPreez wrote on the family’s GoFundMe page. “The love of my life, my rock, my everything. The father to my babies is no longer with us. I don’t know what to do.”
Freedy worked at The M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, MGM Resorts, one of the largest players in the casino industry, urged employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible, Eater Las Vegas reported.
“In addition to the heart-wrenching thought of more illness and death, I fear that progressively more restrictive measures … could be around the corner if we continue on this path,” President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle wrote in a letter to employees on Wednesday. “This would be a significant blow to our community, industry, and economy.”