It’s hard to believe we’ve been battling the coronavirus for 18 months now, especially since we can all remember last Labor Day, when, in many parts of the country, it seemed like things were moving in the right direction. During Labor Day weekend 2020, the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. was about 40,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Right now, it’s nearly four times worse than that at 152,500, as of Sept. 2, 2021.
As cases started to rise in the U.S. earlier this summer once the Delta variant began taking over and vaccination rates slowed, the CDC started cautioning that people in all states with substantial or high levels of community transmission should be wearing masks indoors, vaccination status aside. (Substantial transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people, while high transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people.) Now, just two months later, every single state in the U.S. has a high level of community transmission. That concerning trend led CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, to warn Americans to reconsidering travel this Labor Day weekend. “Given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take their own… these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling,” she said on Aug. 31. “If you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling.”
Even though the situation is bad nationwide, COVID numbers are worse in some states than others. Here are the six states with the highest transmission rates this Labor Day weekend, meaning your risk of catching COVID there is particularly high.
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7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 592
On Sept. 2, the Georgia Department of Health reported that 6,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID across the state, the highest number since the pandemic began, according to local Atlanta news station WSB-TV. The previous record was 5,700 in January. At this point, 97 percent of ICU beds are occupied, according to COVID Act Now.
Across the state, 34 percent of all people in hospitals are COVID patients, but the rate is highest in far southeast Georgia, where people with COVID account for nearly 60 percent of hospitalized patients. “We learned early in the pandemic that a spike in COVID hospitalizations is typically followed by a spike in deaths two to three weeks later,” Scott Steiner, CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System in Georgia, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Aug. 31. “Unfortunately, that is what we are seeing now. Just since Friday, we have lost 24 patients, including nine yesterday.”
The state also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just under 42 percent of residents fully vaccinated, according to CDC data collected by Becker’s Hospital Review.
7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 600.9
Florida has had multiple bad waves of COVID cases throughout the pandemic, in July 2020 and Dec. 2020 to Jan. 2021. But now, it’s in the midst of its worst surge yet. Prior to this summer, the highest seven-day average of daily new COVID cases in the Sunshine State was just shy of 18,000. In August, it reached nearly 30,000, based on The New York Times data.
On Sept. 2, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Florida was experiencing its “deadliest wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.” A Tampa funeral home director told the AP: “Usually we serve between five and six families a week. Right now, we are probably seeing 12 to 13 new families every week. It’s nonstop.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been strongly opposed to mandating masks or proof of vaccination throughout the pandemic. As of Sept. 3, just over 53 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated.
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7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 623.2
Of course, it’s not only southern states seeing COVID numbers climb to unprecedented heights. Wyoming is also in its worst way since the start of the pandemic. The Wyoming Department of Health reported on Sept. 2 that the number of hospitalized COVID patients crossed the 200 mark for the first time since Dec. 2020, when the state also saw a massive surge. Oil City News pointed out that the current number of hospitalized COVID patients—203 in Wyoming on Sept. 2—was 1,350 percent higher than it was on the same date last year, when there were only 14 COVID patients in hospitals across the state of Wyoming.
Like DeSantis, Gov. Mark Gordon said that there will be no statewide mask or vaccine mandates in the state, but encouraged both precautionary measures in a statement about schools. “Even though there will be no statewide mask mandate, vaccination and mask usage can help students and staff minimize the ripple effects that illness and quarantining can have on Wyoming’s communities and economy,” he said on Aug. 23. As of Sept. 3, only 39 percent of people in Wyoming are fully vaccinated.
7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 645.9
Daily new COVID cases hit a record high in Mississippi during the week ending Aug. 20, when 25,102 new cases were reported, according to The Sun Herald of Biloxi. The state’s peak in deaths came the following week, ending Aug. 27, when 288 deaths were reported.
Mississippi’s hospitals are currently overwhelmed, with 93 percent of ICU beds occupied, per COVID Act Now. “We have reached a failure point,” LouAnn Woodward, MD, the top executive at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told The New York Times recently. “The demand has exceeded our resources.”
The state also has the lowest vaccination rate in the U.S., with just 38.5 percent fully vaccinated.
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7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 735.5
The Post and Courier reports that South Carolina appears to have the highest per capita COVID rate in the U.S., according to The New York Times data. Though Gov. Henry McMaster lifted South Carolina’s COVID-related state of emergency in June, when things had improved, hospital workers say they’re still in a dire situation.
“There is an incredibly visible lack of coordinated public health policy (in South Carolina),” Robert Oliverio, MD, vice president and chief medical officer of the hospital system Roper St. Francis, said at a press conference this week. “We have, oddly enough, declared it’s no longer a public health emergency. Frankly, I’m seeing otherwise.” According to The Post and Courier, Roper St. Francis reported its highest number of hospitalized COVID patients ever on Sept. 1, with a third of its hospital beds now being occupied by someone with the virus.
“This is truly the toughest it’s been,” Jeremy Clark, CEO of Hilton Head Regional Health Care of South Carolina, said this week, according to The State. He noted that roughly 80 percent of those currently hospitalized for COVID in the state aren’t vaccinated. As of Sept. 3, South Carolina has fully vaccinated nearly 44 percent of its residents.
7-day case rate per 100,000 people: 739.2
Of all states in the U.S., COVID transmission is currently highest in the Volunteer State. In fact, the numbers are so high that former Republican Senator Bill First, MD, tweeted on Sept. 2 that if Tennessee were an independent nation, it would have the second highest rate of new COVID cases in the world.
First continued, “Without question, #vaccines are the best and safest tool we have to beat this virus. And the science is clear: Unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with #Covid19 than those who are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people are nearly five times more likely to be infected with Covid than fully vaccinated people.” According to the Becker’s Hospital Review data, only 42 percent of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated at the moment.
Tennessee also set a record in terms of hospitalizations this week. On Sept. 1, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 3,501 people were hospitalized with COVID, exceeding the state’s previous high of 3,351 hospitalized COVID patients in early January. “Our hospitals are in dire straits,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, said this week, according to The Tennessean.
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