WH team pleads for vigilance as COVID-19 numbers enhance

U.S. health officials pleaded with Americans Friday to get a COVID-19 vaccine already as the delta surge that dominated the late summer shows signs of easing.

The seven-day average of situations is about 112,000 per day, down from a peak of 175,000 in mid-September and on par with levels in August before the delta surge fully walloped the Sun Belt.

Hospitalizations are down to 81,000 from a summer high of 103,000 — though nevertheless far higher than the daily average of 16,000 in late June.

“That is not a reason to keep unvaccinated. Because if you want to ensure that we get down to a very low level and we don’t resurge again, we’ve nevertheless got to get a large proportion of those 70 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not been vaccinated. We’ve got to get them vaccinated,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “It’s good news that we’re starting to see a turning around of the curve and coming down. That is not an excuse to walk away from the issue of needing to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made a similar plea and said additional mitigation measures such as masking would help stop the spread. Her agency was criticized this year for saying vaccinated people no longer had to use masks in most indoor settings, only to backtrack because of troubling data on possible transmission from vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough infections.

“The future of where we go with this pandemic with delta and other possible variants really lies within our ability to get this country vaccinated and in the meantime, to double down on the prevention strategies that work,” Dr. Walensky said at the White House COVID-19 briefing.

The officials tried to bolster their case with charts that showed states with fewer than 55% of their populations fully vaccinated had far more situations per week than those with at the minimum 55% vaccinated. Several states with vaccination rates above 65% enjoyed already better outcomes.

States under 55% had about 50 hospitalizations per 100,000 persons, compared to fewer than 20 per 100,000 in states with over 65% vaccine coverage.

The administration also defended its controversial push for employers to mandate the vaccines as a condition of employment or attending in-person college.

White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients said Novant Health System in North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt University Medical Center each announced this week that at the minimum 95% of its thousands of employees or students were vaccinated. He also said 99% of United Airlines’ 60,000 employees were vaccinated — up from 59% from two months ago before the mandate went into effect.

“The data is clear, when organizations implement vaccine requirements, vaccination rates soar to 90% or greater,” he said.

The federal sales pitch has been complicated by increasing reports of “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated persons, including a Friday revelation that Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh tested positive.

County, state and federal health officials stress that vaccination nevertheless improves a person’s chances of avoiding infection compared to unvaccinated populations already if, ultimately, the shots were designed to avoid hospitalization and death.

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