US COVID-19 cases climb steadily all week

Today in a White House news briefing, public health officials spotlighted the COVID-19 surges appearing across the country and reiterated the urgency for people to get vaccinated.

Not only has the moving 7-day average of new daily cases increased every day this week, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said that 10% of US counties were recently reclassified as "high transmission risk" areas and 7% moved into the "substantial risk" category. Many of these areas, she added, corresponded with low vaccination rates.

"There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Walensky said.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, and Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief medical advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also spoke during the briefing.

Local mitigation efforts continue

Yesterday the United States reported 35,561 new COVID-19 cases, with a 7-day average of 28,315, according to the New York Times tracker. As Zients pointed out today, four states accounted for more than 40% of the new cases, with one in five occurring in Florida.

As Los Angeles County faces more than a week of 1,000 new daily infections, officials announced yesterday that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks indoors again, according to the Washington Post.

During the White House briefing, Walensky said that as the pandemic becomes heterogeneous across the country, decisions have to be made on the local level.

"If you have areas of low vax and high case rates, then I would say that local policy makers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for that community until they scale up their vaccination rates," she said.

More recent mitigation efforts have stemmed from institutional and government actions. The University of California became the largest university system in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. All students and faculty will need to be inoculated before the fall semester, according to USA Today. In the Midwest, the Chicago Department of Public Health said that, starting today, unvaccinated travelers from Missouri and Arkansas must quarantine 10 days or have a negative COVID-19 test, according to the Associated Press.

And while Arkansas, Florida, Los Angeles, Missouri, and Nevada have the highest COVID-19 case rates right now, Zients said during the briefing that they have higher rates of newly vaccinated people compared with the national average. The federal government is responding to states' requests, he added, noting the deployment of more than 100 people to Nevada to help enhance vaccine access and outreach and CDC resources and expertise to Missouri.

Pfizer seeks full FDA vaccine approval

Today, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted priority review designation as they apply for full approval for their COVID-19 vaccine in those 16 and older. The goal date for an FDA decision is January 2022.

Expected to come around the same time (early to midwinter) is an agency decision on whether both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines will receive emergency-use authorization (EUA) for children under 12, NBC News reports. Results from trials by both companies are expected in the fall.

In the meantime, the White House public health leaders are continuing their call for vaccinations. During the briefing, the speakers re-emphasized that almost all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the country are in unvaccinated people, with Fauci highlighting UK and Israeli data indicating that vaccinations drastically help curb the impact of COVID-19, including the Delta (B1617.2) variant.

Murthy said, "The truth is that across our nation, the voices of doctors, nurses, scientists, and public health experts are too often being drowned out by the false sirens of misinformation," echoing his surgeon general advisory's call yesterday for support from individuals, organizations, and industries.

"Misinformation robs us of our freedom to make decisions for our health based on science and facts. Addressing health misinformation is an urgent challenge, a moral and civic responsibility that we must meet together."

Almost 68% (67.9%) of adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Data show 388,738,495 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered and 336,054,953 have been administered in the country, with 160,408,538 Americans fully vaccinated.

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