The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in the US has risen above 100,000 for the first time since January, when the mass vaccination campaign was just getting under way.
Figures from the US Department of Health and Human Services show that 100,317 inpatient hospital beds are now occupied by Covid patients.
The return to January levels of hospitalisations underscores the devastating surge of infection from the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus which is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated people, especially in the US south.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the mortal danger that unvaccinated Americans are now facing. It shows that people without the vaccine are about 29 times more likely to end up in hospital with Covid than those who are fully vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people are also almost five times as likely to become infected as those who get the shots, the study found, basing its conclusions on data from Los Angeles county in California.
Hospitalisations are particularly high in Texas and Florida. This week the death rate in Florida was higher than it has ever been throughout the pandemic. According to the New York Times database the state is suffering a seven-day average of 228 new reported deaths, which is substantially worse than its two previous peaks in August 2020 and January this year.
The rising death rate brings Florida’s total death toll to 42,731. The state reported 26,203 new Covid cases to the CDC on Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported.
The full wrath of the surge in cases is being felt in a relatively small number of states in the south, where vaccination rates are relatively low compared with other parts of the country. Alabama has run out of ICU beds as its hospital capacity failed to meet the spike in seriously ill Covid patients.
Nationally, 52% of the US population is now fully vaccinated, but that rate falls to 46% in Alabama – the lowest in the country – according to data compiled by the New York Times. A mere 12% of all hospital patients in the state have had the Covid vaccine.
The Florida Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken a belligerent stand against mask mandates in schools and other protective measures. In March he declared: “We’ve had tremendous success” but now Covid records are being broken in his state.
As infections, hospitalisations and deaths rise there, according to local Florida media, the dramatic uptick in cases is pushing many hospitals to the brink of ICU capacity. In Orange county in the centre of the state more than 95% of those requiring hospital care are unvaccinated.
There is also growing medical alarm in Florida that hospitalisations and deaths are happening among a younger age range of people aged 20 to 50 who have fewer underlying conditions.
Chirag Patel, an assistant chief medical officer in Jacksonville, told the New York Times: “We’ve had more patients this time around that have passed away at a younger age with very few if any medical problems,” he said. “They simply come in with Covid, and they don’t make it out of the hospital.”
Though southern states are being battered the hardest, the impact of the Delta variant is not exclusively being felt in the south. South Dakota has seen its new cases increase sixfold in the past two weeks – with a total of 3,819 new cases over 14 days compared with 644 in the previous equivalent period.
Health experts are pinning the rise on the annual motorcycle rally that was held over 10 days in August in Sturgis in the west of the state. The event was attended by more than half a million bikers, many of whom were unvaccinated and unmasked.
The 2020 Sturgis rally had a similar effect. The CDC said that last year’s gathering caused “widespread transmission” of Covid.
Confronted by the mounting pressures bearing down on health systems in pockets of the US, the Biden administration is redoubling efforts to increase vaccination rates. Following the full approval granted by the US Food and Drug Administration for the Pfizer vaccine this week, major corporations have also begun to up the ante.
Delta Airlines has said it will impose fees of $200 a month on employees who fail to get vaccinated. The company said the surcharge was needed to counter the cost to its business of an average hospital stay, which is $50,000 an employee.