New Covid infections are surging in America, driven by the Delta variant. The states which reopened in the spring, such as Texas, Mississippi and Georgia, and defied the predictions of catastrophic exit waves, are now seeing surges. Florida, too, which reopened last autumn, is seeing a spike in infections, and hospital admissions are rising.
Reuters takes a look at how states are responding – which is by doing remarkably little, with the appetite for restrictions even in Blue states now that the vaccines are rolled out seemingly much lower than in previous outbreaks.
More than 10,000 patients were hospitalized in Florida as of Sunday, surpassing that state’s record. Louisiana was expected to break its record within 24 hours, prompting Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to order residents to wear masks again indoors.
“These are the darkest days of this pandemic,” Dr. Catherine O’Neal, Chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said at a news conference with Edwards. “We are no longer giving adequate care to patients.”
O’Neal urged Louisianans to get vaccinated, warning that hospitals were overwhelmed. Many nurses were out sick with the virus, she said, leaving the state with a staffing deficit of 6,000 people.
Hospitalisations in Arkansas are also soaring and could eventually break records.
In California, political leaders in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties reinstated mandatory indoor mask orders in public places as of midnight Tuesday morning.
Governors of New York and New Jersey said transport, jail, hospital and nursing home workers would be required to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said inoculation would be mandatory for the city’s more than 11,000 employees.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged bars, restaurants and other private businesses to require that customers be vaccinated before they can enter. Cuomo said vaccines could be made mandatory for nursing home workers, teachers and healthcare workers if case numbers do not drop.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy suggested he could clamp down even further on residents and businesses.
Ron DeSantis continues to stand firm against mask and vaccine mandates, despite hospital admissions increasing.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has taken the opposite stance. He issued an executive order last week barring schools from requiring face coverings, saying parents should make that decision for their children.
District officials in Broward and Gadsden counties, facing a threat by DeSantis to withhold state funds, said on Monday they were dropping mask mandates this fall, the News Service of Florida reported.
Florida has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation and about one-quarter of the country’s hospitalised Covid patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Mary Mayhew, head of Florida’s hospital association, said the latest surge sent hospitalisations rising to 10,000 from 2,000 in less than 30 days, although deaths have remained well below peak numbers.
The arrival of the Delta surge in the reopened American states is about as clear a proof as you could ask for that surges are driven not by the lifting of restrictions (if they were you would get the elusive exit wave) but by the arrival of new variants. Why? Because the new variant partially evades the herd immunity that brought the previous wave to an end. The surge will last until the herd immunity is topped up again (as explained here).
How long will the current surges last? The last time I posed this question, about the U.K. Delta surge, it turned out the peak had already occurred several days before and the data reporting was just catching up. Will that be the same this time?
New infections do appear to have slowed in recent days in the early Delta hotspots of Arkansas and Missouri. Since neither state imposed new restrictions and only around 40% of the populations are fully vaccinated, the outcomes in these states should be a good demonstration of what a localised Delta epidemic looks like when no or minimal measures are taken and vaccine coverage is relatively low. As so often, comparisons between U.S. states with different vaccine coverage and policy responses will be illuminating.
The spikes in the various states should peak soon – if the U.K. is a guide then they are due to top out in the next week or two, as they should only last a few weeks and not get much above the winter peak (depending how much testing is being done, of course). As and when they do, it will be yet more evidence that lockdowns are unnecessary to end Covid outbreaks or ‘control’ infections.
Stop Press: Sweden has recorded an average of just 0.6 Covid deaths per day in the past two weeks, MailOnline reports, despite never imposing a mask mandate. However, the country may be in the foothills of its Delta surge (see below – its case reporting follows an odd weekly cyclical pattern) and it will be interesting to see what they do if it spikes. One to watch.
Stop Press 2: Other countries on their way down are Portugal, Malta and Netherlands. Heavily vaccinated Israel is still rising while reopened Iceland may have peaked.