COVID-19 cases in U.S. triple over 2 weeks as vaccination rates slow

COVID-19 cases tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

“Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.

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“They are tired. They are thinking this is deja vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.”

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2 per cent of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.

Utah reported having 295 people hospitalized due to the virus, the highest number since February. The state has averaged about 622 confirmed cases per day over the last week, about triple the infection rate at its lowest point in early June. Health data shows the surge is almost entirely connected to unvaccinated people.

Fauci, Sen. Rand Paul accuse each other of lying in heated debate over COVID-19 origins

Fauci, Sen. Rand Paul accuse each other of lying in heated debate over COVID-19 origins

“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”

He said the patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

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As lead pastor of one of Missouri’s largest churches, Jeremy Johnson has heard the reasons congregants don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine. He wants them to know it’s not only OK to get vaccinated, it’s what the Bible urges.

“I think there is a big influence of fear,” said Johnson, whose Springfield-based church also has a campus in Nixa and another about to open in Republic. “A fear of trusting something apart from scripture, a fear of trusting something apart from a political party they’re more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: `I trust in God, not science.’ But the truth is, science and God are not something you have to choose between.”

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Now many churches in southwestern Missouri, like Johnson’s Assembly of God-affiliated North Point Church, are hosting vaccination clinics. Meanwhile, about 200 church leaders have signed onto a statement urging Christians to get vaccinated, and on Wednesday announced a follow-up public service campaign.

Opposition to vaccination is especially strong among white evangelical Protestants, who make up more than one-third of Missouri’s residents, according to a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center.

“We found that the faith community is very influential, very trusted, and to me, that is one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up,” said Ken McClure, mayor of Springfield.

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The two hospitals in his city are teeming with patients, reaching record and near-record pandemic highs. Steve Edwards, who is the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted that the hospital has brought in 175 traveling nurses and has 46 more scheduled to arrive by Monday.

Read more: Delta variant now accounts for over 80% of new US COVID-19 cases: CDC director

Delta variant now accounts for over 80% of new US COVID-19 cases: CDC director