July 4 weekend worries public-health experts; more contagious variant causing outbreaks in lightly vaccinated Missouri, Arkansas

Screenshot of New York Times interactive map, from CDC new-case data; click on it to enlarge.

Outbreaks of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus are filling up hospitals in the lightly vaccinated states of Missouri and Arkansas, and the head of the University of Arkansas medical system says the state may be beginning a third major surge of the Covid-19 disease due to lack of vaccinations.

“We have to be concerned that this will be a trend that could continue, and if it does, it would appear we may be at the beginning of the third surge of Covid-19 here,” Dr. Cam Patterson said at Tuesday, June 29, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said 90.5% of the new victims were not fully immunized.

Nationally, “The highly transmissible Delta variant is on the rise and represents a quarter of confirmed cases, posing a greater risk to pockets of unvaccinated communities than earlier strains of the virus,” report Fenit Nirappil, Dan Keating, Ryan Slattery and Dan Diamond of The Washington Post .

“The country is staring down two paths: deliver a finishing blow by achieving herd immunity through vaccination, or risk additional and preventable outbreaks from a virus that has grown more threatening,” they write. “Sixty-four percent of Americans over 12 years old have received at least one vaccine dose, but new infections are starting to tick up again after a steady decline, with 25 states reporting higher seven-day averages and more cases likely undercounted because of lower testing.”

Kentucky was one of those states, with a seven-day average of 189, 8.6% more than the 174 in the previous seven-day period, based on initial, unadjusted daily reports. The seven-day average fell to 183 on Friday; no additional daily case numbers are expected until Tuesday, July 6.

The Post’s vaccination tracker, which is updated daily with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, shows that vaccinations in Kentucky in the seven days ended Sunday averaged 8,359 per day. That was 9% less than the week before, when shots were apparently still being spurred by the state’s vaccination lottery.

As the July 4 holiday weekend began, health experts worried about it.

“I worry that the July 4 weekend could become a super-spreader event in low-vaccinated areas without the necessary precautions,” Aditi Nerurkar, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School, told the Post. “The overarching sense in America is that summer is here, the pandemic is over and the party can begin. But in under-vaccinated areas, where ironically a lot of this rhetoric lives and breeds, that’s the farthest thing from the truth.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is urging unvaccinated Americans to wear masks and to practice social distancing. “In some regions of the country, nearly one in two sequences is the Delta variant,” she said. “We expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people now.”

The Post reports, “A Delta-variant-fueled spike in Missouri, which reported among the nation’s highest per capita new cases in recent weeks, appears to be spilling over its borders into northeast Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas.” The areas are lightly vaccinated, as this map shows:

Screenshot of Washington Post interactive map, adapted by Kentucky Health News
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