The Delta variant has resulted in a significant surge in cases across the country, but the damage has not been spread evenly. Over the past couple months, some states have seen cases skyrocket, crushing previous records from last winter’s surge before vaccinations began, while other states seem to have escaped the worst of Delta’s wrath. But as cases in some of the hardest hit states plateau or decline, experts warn that the surge isn’t over yet.
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On Sept. 3, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, told CNBC’s Squawk Box that he has a prediction about where the country’s next surge will be. “I think there’s sort of a perception that we’re sort of through this Delta wave here in the Northeast because we’ve seen Delta cases go up and go down in places like the New York metropolitan region. We’re also seeing [test] positives come down,” he said.
But as far as Gottlieb’s concerned, the Northeast isn’t done with Delta just yet. “I don’t think that that was the true Delta wave. I think that that was a Delta warning,” he said. Gottlieb predicts that the true Delta wave in the Northeastern states “is going to start to build after Labor Day.”
While the Delta variant wreaked havoc on the Southern states throughout August, other parts of the country have yet to see a spike in cases as dramatic. “We will probably see a build in cases here in the Northeast. I don’t think that we’re done with this,” Gottlieb added.
The former FDA commissioner believes cases have peaked in many of these Southern states and will begin to drop as the Northern states see the opposite trend. He predicts that Labor Day gatherings and the return to classrooms for millions of children will serve as “incubators for spread,” hiking up case numbers in the coming weeks.
Although Gottlieb believes cases will surge in this region during its coming Delta wave, he doesn’t suspect that Northern states will see spikes quite as high as the Southern states had, because more people are vaccinated and many have been previously infected, “which we also know is protective,” he explained.
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Gottlieb isn’t the only expert who believes states that have yet to see a significant surge are due for a Delta spike. On Aug. 22, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, PhD, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN that if “the Delta variant follows this pattern that it’s taken in other countries, we can expect to see, particularly the Southern Sun Belt states that are getting hit so hard right now … a really rapid decline in cases probably in two to three weeks.”
As the Southern states see a decline in cases, Osterholm predicts the states that haven’t experienced a surge or have just started to spike—like those in the Northeast—will soon be in trouble. “The real challenge is what’s going to happen with all the other states where we’re seeing increases,” he told CNN. “If they too light up, then this surge could actually go on well into mid-September or later.”
Some Northern states have already begun the upward ascent. According to data from The Washington Post, Maine saw a 73 percent increase in cases over the past seven days, while Vermont reported a 22 percent increase. All of the Northeastern states have seen cases increase at least somewhat in the past week. Meanwhile, a handful of Southern states—including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi—have reported a decline in cases.
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