COVID surge in unvaccinated is pushing US to more mandates, masks, mitigation

Signs requiring masks line the entrance to a grocery store.
Enlarge / People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021.

The ongoing COVID-19 surge among unvaccinated people is pushing the US toward more vaccine mandates, renewed mask use, and other mitigation efforts.

With around 51 percent of the country not fully vaccinated and the hypertransmissible delta variant spreading rapidly, the country’s pandemic outlook is grim and getting grimmer. Cases are still increasing in all 50 states and up 170 percent in the last two weeks, with the pace of case increases also accelerating.

COVID-19 is thriving in places with relatively low vaccination rates. Arkansas and Louisiana have the highest rates of new cases, and both states have only 36 percent of their residents vaccinated. Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi are also seeing surges among the unvaccinated.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up 58 percent across the nation, and 97 percent of those patients are unvaccinated. Deaths are also increasing nationwide, up 20 percent, and almost exclusively among unvaccinated people.

In an interview Sunday on Face the Nation, former Surgeon General Jerome Adams underscored that the surge—and the subsequent mitigation efforts to try to tamp it down—is the consequence of individuals’ decisions to not get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“More mitigation is coming,” Adams warned, “whether it’s masking or whether it’s closures or whether it’s your kids having to return to virtual learning, that is coming. And it’s coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again, and it’s spiraling out of control because we don’t have enough people vaccinated.” He encouraged people to get vaccinated to protect themselves, those around them, and also “help every single American enjoy the freedoms that we want to return to.”

Masks and mandates

Adams’ forecast was swiftly validated. On Sunday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci told CNN that revisions to the federal masking guidelines are under “active consideration.” The current surge has already spurred renewed mask requirements in some places, such as Los Angeles, however. And some experts have even recommended upgrading to N95 masks amid the spread of delta.

Meanwhile, Monday saw a steady stream of new vaccine mandates in response to the surge. The American Medical Association joined more than 50 other health care organizations to support COVID-19 vaccination mandates for healthcare workers.

“Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the joint statement started.

“It is critical that all people in the health care workforce get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the safety of our patients and our colleagues,” Susan Bailey, immediate past president of the AMA, added in a statement. “With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday announced that is has mandated that all of its frontline health workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, making it is the first federal agency to do so. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all city government employees would need to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. Likewise, in California, state employees and healthcare workers will also need to get vaccinated or regularly submit to testing, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced.

Also on Monday, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which represents hundreds of businesses, announced that, starting Thursday, July 29, establishments will require indoor customers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result from the past 72-hours.

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