The U.S. has had a tumultuous time with COVID over the last year and a half. As we enter our second winter with the virus still not contained, many people remain nervous—and for good reason. Last winter, COVID hit new heights in the country, surging significantly as people traveled and gathered for winter holidays despite warnings from health officials. According to The New York Times, the U.S. saw more daily cases and deaths in Jan. 2021 than at any other time before or since. Cases then dropped again after vaccines were introduced—but picked up as the Delta variant brought on another spike over the summer. While numbers had been falling again recently, they’re now back to moving in the wrong direction. So, why are COVID cases rising again in the U.S.?
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During a Nov. 15 interview with CNBC’s Shepard Smith on The News With Shepard Smith, White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, addressed newly rising COVID cases in the U.S. According to the infectious disease expert, cases in the country had recently plateaued at an average of around 70,000 to 75,000 daily cases, but they’re “creeping up into the 80,000 per day,” he said.
COVID cases in the U.S. have increased by 14 percent overall in the last two weeks, according to data from The New York Times. Certain states, like New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota, have seen the average number of new cases in their states increase even more, at more than 40 percent over the last two-week period.
Fauci said there’s a clear reason why cases are rising again: unvaccinated individuals. “That’s something that’s entirely predictable when you have these many people—about 60 million people—who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not gotten vaccinated,” he explained.
In his interview with Smith, Fauci acknowledged that we could be at the beginning of another COVID wave, especially as winter rolls in. Other virus experts have recently warned about a winter surge as well. Monica Wang, ScD, an associate professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, told NBC News that though she expects a winter spike, it won’t be as bad as last winter because we have effective vaccines available now.
Meanwhile, George Rutherford, MD, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, recently told USA Today that even if the coronavirus is still circulating, more vaccinations would allow the virus to become one we could live with rather than one that kills.
“If our population were 100 percent vaccinated, we’d be having a very different conversation,” Rutherford told the news outlet. “The thing to remember is that if you have 62 percent or 72 percent of your population fully vaccinated, that means you 38 percent or 28 percent who aren’t—and that’s plenty of people to sustain transmission of the virus.”
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During his interview on The News With Shepard Smith, Fauci added that, “It’s still always the primary thing: to get the unvaccinated vaccinated. Another reason why it’s so important to get vaccinated, not only to protect yourself, but to protect your family, and importantly which we sometimes forget, is your societal responsibility to keep the level of infection in the community down so that you yourself are not just in a vacuum, but you’re part of the community effort to not let that surge.”
According to the White House COVID adviser, other mitigation efforts might also be needed to avoid a disastrous winter surge, especially as people gather indoors to escape the colder weather. “This is what you [have] happen when you get to a winter season when the weather gets cold, and people go indoor. It’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s highly predictable and that’s the reason why we’ve got to get people vaccinated who are not vaccinated, boost the people who are already vaccinated, and when you’re in an indoor congregate setting, as much as nobody likes to wear a mask including me, when you are in an indoor congregate setting, and you don’t know [people’s vaccination status], wear a mask.”
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