More Hospitalized in U.S. Areas With Low Covid Vaccine Rates

Health officials worry that Covid-19 hospitalization rates could increase among the unvaccinated as variants of the virus spread.

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Fauci Says Virus Variants Underscore Importance of Vaccinations

Despite the receding number of coronavirus cases in much of the United States, hospitalizations continue to rise in communities with low vaccination rates as highly contagious variants spread around the country.

What I’m going to do right now is spend the next couple of minutes talking to you about a subject that has gained a lot more attention over the last few days, and that has to do with the variants in general, but particularly in the variant which we now refer to as Delta or the B.1.617.2, which in fact, as you know, originally was noticed in India and dominated in certain states in India, but now has spread throughout other elements and other areas of the world. However, fortunately, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and AstraZeneca appear to be effective against the Delta variant. The Delta variant currently accounts for more than 6 percent of the sequenced cases in the United States. This is a situation, the way it was in England, where they had a B.1.17 dominant and then the 617 took over. We cannot let that happen in the United States, which is such a powerful argument to underscore what Dr. Walensky said: to get vaccinated, particularly if you had your first dose, make sure you get that second dose. And for those who have been not vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated.

Despite the receding number of coronavirus cases in much of the United States, hospitalizations continue to rise in communities with low vaccination rates as highly contagious variants spread around the country.CreditCredit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

June 9, 2021Updated 4:10 p.m. ET

The coronavirus might be receding in much of the United States, but health officials worry that the low immunization rates in parts of the country and the spread of highly contagious virus variants may pose a threat to the nation’s remarkable progress since vaccines were introduced.

In Newton County, Mo., for example, where just 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, area hospitals reported they were treating 46 people for Covid-19 as of June 3, a 47 percent rise over the previous two weeks, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Comanche County, Okla., saw a 63 percent jump in Covid hospitalizations, with 10 people being treated; just 32 percent of county residents are fully vaccinated.

Many of the places with the notable recent jumps in hospitalization rates are smaller communities, where new virus cases and hospitalizations may be in the single digits. Nationally, hospitalizations for Covid-19 continue to decline, though eight states have seen upticks. That includes Louisiana, Utah and Oklahoma, which have lagging vaccination rates.

On the other hand, some states with low vaccination rates, including Mississippi and Alabama, have seen fewer people in the hospital in recent weeks, though in Alabama, cases are rising. Hospitalization figures typically lag case counts, because it may take some time for someone who is infected to become severely ill.

Still, experts are concerned that upticks in hospitalization and case numbers could bloom into a surge this summer, as people head indoors to escape the heat, especially across the South in communities where vaccination rates are low.

The recent increase in some communities is not a coincidence, said Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. People who become ill with Covid-19 now are, “in most age groups, twice as likely to end up hospitalized as people who got the virus earlier in the course of the pandemic,” Dr. Delbridge said.

In Maryland, of those between the ages of 50 and 59 who contracted Covid-19 over the winter, about 8 percent were hospitalized, he said. From the end of April through the beginning of June, the hospitalization rate in that group was 19 percent.

Worrisome virus variants could be playing a role, Dr. Delbridge said. The variant first found in Britain, now known as Alpha, is more contagious and may be deadlier than most others and is now dominant in the United States. Last month, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the variant, also known as B.1.1.7, made up 72 percent of U.S. cases at the time.

But vaccines have proven to be effective against the Alpha variant. A spring surge that scientists had warned of was smaller than had been feared in the United States.

“I think we got lucky, to be honest,” Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at Yale University, told The New York Times last month. “We’re being rescued by the vaccine.”

Through Tuesday, about 172 million Americans had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a Times database. But vaccine distribution across the country has slowed in recent weeks. About 1 million shots are being administered nationwide each day, down from an April peak of 3 million.

In Michigan, one of the few states that saw a surge in cases this spring, Alpha struck younger people who were returning to schools and playing contact sports.

“Because it’s more transmissible, the virus finds cracks in behavior that normally wouldn’t have been as much of a problem,” said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan.

At a White House news briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief Covid adviser, said the Delta variant, which was originally identified in India, was emerging as the dominant variant in Britain.

“We cannot let that happen in the United States,” Dr. Fauci said, adding that the Delta variant now accounted for 6 percent of sequenced cases in the United States.

Dr. Fauci urged young people to get immunized, citing a study that found that the vaccines appeared to be effective against the Delta variant.

One way of limiting the spread is for those who are vaccinated to wear masks around those who are not, doctors say. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor settings, at least one state is modifying that a rule in some places: When California reopens next week, fully vaccinated colleagues working in a room together will be allowed to work maskless. But if one person is unvaccinated, everyone in the room will need to wear a mask.

“If I’m in close proximity to other people, and I don’t know their vaccination status, I put a mask on,” Dr. Delbridge said. “It’s just too easy.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article overstated the connection between low vaccination rates and hospitalizations. While the number of patients hospitalized for Covid-19 is rising in some counties with low vaccination rates, it is not the case in all such counties. The error was repeated in the headline. The earlier version also misstated the increase in hospitalizations in Smith County, Tenn., and Trousdale County, Tenn., in recent weeks. The 700 percent increase in reported hospitalizations in those two counties is because of an irregularity in how hospitals in the area reported data to the Department of Health and Human Services, not an increase in people actually hospitalized.

Albert Sun contributed reporting.

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