CDC director warns of ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ as cases rise
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky warned of rising cases on Friday, stating that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated” and that vaccinated people are protected against severe disease.
The highly transmissible delta variant is fueling expanding outbreaks, but they are centered in parts of the country with lower vaccination rates.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said during a White House press briefing. “We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk.”
The country is averaging about 26,000 cases per day, nearly a 70 percent increase from the previous seven-day average, Walensky said. Hospitalizations are also up to about 2,790 per day, a 36 percent increase from the prior week, and deaths are up 26 percent, to 211 per day.
But almost all of the hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated people. Walensky said 97 percent of people entering the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
“The good news is if you are fully vaccinated you are protected against severe COVID, hospitalization and death, and are even protected against the known variants, including the delta variant, circulating in this country,” Walensky said.
“If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk,” she added.
Experts say they are not expecting surges of the virus as high as earlier in the pandemic, because much of the country is now vaccinated. But there could be localized spikes in areas with low vaccination rates.
The states with the worst current outbreaks, including Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Nevada, have relatively low vaccination rates, hovering around 50 percent of the population with at least one dose, according to data from the COVID Act Now tracking site.
These numbers are compared to vaccination rates over 70 percent in Vermont and Massachusetts, states that are faring much better.
Walensky said local officials might want to consider mask orders in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, but indicated that decisions will be local. The national CDC guidelines on masks have not changed — those that are fully vaccinated are protected, and do not need to wear masks in most settings, except for in places like airplanes.
“If you have low vaccination and high case rates then I would say local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community until they scale up their vaccination rates,” Walensky said.
But the overall message was still to get vaccinated, a point that is harder to drive home now that the most eager Americans have already gotten the jab and many of the roughly 30 percent of adults who remain unvaccinated are resistant.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is calling on social media companies and others to do more to fight misinformation on vaccines.
“Nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been prevented,” he said.