The Delta variant is driving a surge in the coronavirus pandemic in the US as the Labor Day weekend begins, with new daily cases four times higher than they were a year ago despite rising vaccination rates.
On Friday, the national seven-day rolling average of daily new cases was nearly 163,000, an increase of more than 300 percent from Labor Day weekend 2020, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of Johns Hopkins data.
Hospitalizations also doubled, and deaths were up 80 percent from last Labor Day. The figures came despite 62 percent of the total US population now having received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine. Fifty-three percent of the population is fully vaccinated, the CDC says.
Vaccination does appear to be reducing deaths among the most vulnerable, however, with deaths and hospitalizations rising at a slower rate than overall cases.
All three measures remain well below their US peak in early January, and there are signs that the latest wave might be cresting, with the CDC estimating that more than 80 percent of the population now has immunity either through recovering from infection or getting vaccinated.
However, just as Delta shows signs of burning out, the concerning Mu variant has established a foothold in Los Angeles, as well as in Miami.
The Delta variant is driving a surge in the coronavirus pandemic in the US as the Labor Day weekend begins. Above, a doctor checks on a Covid patient inside the ICU at Adventist Health Glendale near Los Angeles on Wednesday
The Mu variant was first identified in Colombia and scientists still know little about it, but the variant does display mutations that make experts fear it could evade natural immunity and vaccines.
Mu, also known as B.1.621, ‘has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,’ according to a pandemic bulletin published by the WHO.
Its name comes from the Greek alphabet, which scientists are now using to name new variants as they emerge – including Delta.
On Friday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed for the first time that it had tracked confirmed cases of the Mu variant in the area.
The department said that it had identified 167 Mu variant specimens in LA County between June 19 and August 21, with the majority of Mu specimens sequenced in July.
‘The identification of variants like Mu, and the spreading of variants across the globe, highlights the need for L.A. County residents to continue to take measures to protect themselves and others,’ said LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health
‘This is what makes getting vaccinated and layering protections so important,’ added Ferrer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday that the United States is ‘keeping a very close eye’ on the Mu variant of COVID-19 but it is ‘not an immediate threat,’ noting that the highly contagious Delta variant now accounts for 99 percent of US cases.
‘Yes, we certainly are aware of the Mu variant. We’re keeping a very close eye on it,’ Fauci said at a briefing.
‘This variant has a constellation of mutations that suggest that it would evade certain antibodies, not only monoclonal antibodies, but vaccine and convalescent serum- induced antibodies,’ Fauci said.
‘But there isn’t a lot of clinical data to suggest that. It is mostly laboratory, in-vitro data. Not to downplay it, we take it very seriously.’
Chaplain Elias Molina works inside the ICU at Adventist Health Glendale on Wednesday in southern California. At the moment the hospital has 65 Covid patients in their 515 bed hospital. Most of the Covid patients are unvaccinated
The Mu variant is also confirmed in Miami. Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated near Miami last month
Confirmed cases of the Mu variant have also been tracked in Florida, which is in the grip of its deadliest wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Though the Delta variant is driving the current deadly surge in Florida, a Mu variant cluster was previously discovered in the Miami area.
Florida already accounts for roughly a fifth of the new coronavirus cases and deaths in the US.
As of mid-August, the state was averaging 244 deaths per day, up from just 23 a day in late June and eclipsing the previous peak of 227 during the summer of 2020.
Because of both the way deaths are logged in Florida and lags in reporting, more recent figures on fatalities per day are incomplete.
Florida hospitals have had to rent refrigerated trucks to store more bodies. Funeral homes have been overwhelmed.
Cristina Miles, a mother of five from Orange Park, is among those facing more than one loss at a time. Her husband died after contracting COVID-19, and less than two weeks later, her mother-in-law succumbed to the virus.
‘I feel we are all kind of in a weird dream state,’ she said, adding that her children are grieving differently, with one shutting down, another feeling inspired to pass a hard swimming test, and the oldest going about her life as usual.
Hospitals have been swamped with patients who, like Miles´ husband and mother-in-law, hadn´t gotten vaccinated.
In a positive sign, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in Florida has dropped over the past two weeks from more than 17,000 to 14,200 on Friday, indicating the surge is easing.
Florida made an aggressive effort early on to vaccinate its senior citizens. But Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Florida, said the raw number of those who have yet to get the shot is still large, given Florida’s elderly population of 4.6 million.
‘Even 10 percent is still a very large number, and then folks living with them who come in contact with them are not vaccinated,’ Cherabuddi said. ‘With Delta, things spread very quickly.’
Cherabuddi said there is also a ‘huge difference’ in attitudes toward masks in Florida this summer compared with last year. This summer, ‘if you traveled around the state, it was like we are not really in a surge,’ he said.
Governor Ron DeSantis has strongly opposed certain mandatory measures to keep the virus in check, saying people should be trusted to make decisions for themselves.
He has asserted, too, that the spike in cases is seasonal as Floridians spend more time indoors to escape the heat.
Residents demonstrate before the Lake County School Board started an emergency meeting to discuss mask mandates to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tavares, Florida on Thursday
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has banned mask and vaccine mandates, but some local districts are rebelling. Above, Residents hold placards at an emergency meeting of the Lake County School Board on Wednesday
In an impromptu briefing with reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday, a White House spokeswoman said that President Joe Biden planned to address the nation next week on his administration’s response to the pandemic.
‘We are finalizing those details, and we’ll have more to share in the upcoming days,’ said Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Biden expects to launch a campaign to administer 100 million vaccine booster shots on September 20, but the plan has not yet been approved by regulators at the Food and Drug Administration, who are reportedly furious at the White House for announcing the plan before FDA approval.
If it goes forward, the White House’s booster shot plan will mostly likely start only with the vaccine made by Pfizer.
Biden had hoped to offer Moderna booster shots as well, but the vaccine maker has apparently lagged in seeking authorization of an additional dose.
Biden’s appointed health experts are expected to recommend that everyone get the Pfizer booster shot eight months after their initial dose, regardless of which vaccine they received the first time.
‘It is time to prepare Americans for a booster shot,’ Biden’s COVID czar Dr. Jeff Zients said at a briefing on Tuesday.