COVID-19 surge could go on for months, projection says; most unvaccinated Americans don't plan on getting shots: Live COVID-19 updates

·9 min read

New projections released by a COVID-19 research consortium forecast the current surge of cases lasting through the fall and peaking in mid-October, accelerated in part by the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist from the University of North Carolina who helps run the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, told NPR in the most likely scenario, of the four scenarios included in the ensemble projection, only 70% of eligible U.S. residents get vaccinated and the delta variant becomes 60% more transmissible. Lessler said this trajectory would climax with approximately 60,000 COVID-19 cases and 850 deaths each day in mid-October.

Johns Hopkins University data shows cases are rising across the nation, and health experts have repeatedly warned regions with low vaccination rates are particularly vulnerable to delta.

"What's going on in the country with the virus is matching our most pessimistic scenarios," Lessler said. "We might be seeing synergistic effects of people becoming less cautious in addition to the impacts of the delta variant."

However, Lessler also said "there's a lot of uncertainty in these projections," and outcomes can be influenced by factors such as changing vaccination rates and the reinstatement of public health measures in communities.

Also in the news:

► The White House is refusing to release the number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated staff after one aide tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

► People who are severely immune-compromised should consider getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and should definitely take other precautions like wearing masks and making sure those around them are vaccinated, several members of a federal advisory committee said.

► Louisiana Gov. Bel Edwards is calling for mask-wearing to resume indoors for vaccinated and unvaccinated people as more than 1,000 in the state are hospitalized with COVID. The governor said Louisiana has the highest rate of new cases per capita of any state, but did not say he would implement a mask mandate or new restrictions.

Common respiratory viruses are making a comeback, and a particularly severe flu season could be on the horizon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday.

Journalists and other social media users quickly corrected Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after he declined to disclose his COVID-19 vaccination status during a Friday press conference, citing a medical privacy law.

Many states, cities and towns across America are now slow to spend emergency funds allocated to them from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, reflecting an unexpected reality: many states rebounded faster than expected.

►The rural Florida county of Liberty County has the lowest population in the state but finds itself in the state's top 15 when it comes to new COVID-19 cases, alongside four other rural Big Bend counties. As the highly contagious delta variant rapidly spreads, Liberty County is a hot zone in a state on fire.

► Thousands of people took to the streets of Sydney and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest lockdown restrictions amid another surge in cases, and police made several arrests after crowds broke through barriers and threw plastic bottles and plants.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 610,720 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 193 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. More than 162.4 million Americans — 48.9% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be infected, but serious illness is rare. "It's not 100%. But nothing in this world is 100%," said epidemiologist Carlos del Rio. Read more here.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Tennessee radio host who doubted vaccines hospitalized with COVID, family says

A conservative Tennessee-based talk radio host has changed his previously skeptical messaging on vaccines after being hospitalized with COVID-19, his family said.

Phil Valentine, who has posted on social media dissuading his audience from getting vaccinated if they aren't "in danger of dying" from COVID, has been hospitalized in the critical care unit and is receiving supplemental oxygen, but is not on a ventilator, according to his brother, Mark Valentine.

“First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination,” Valentine said. “For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, 'Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’"

— Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY

Most unvaccinated Americans don't plan on getting shots, poll says

The majority of unvaccinated Americans say they do not plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new poll.

A poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% of American adults who have not yet received a vaccine say they probably will not get the shot, and 45% say they definitely will not.

Unvaccinated people don't have confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine, the survey found, with 64% saying they have little to no confidence in it, even against the highly spreadable delta variant that now accounts for a vast majority of cases in the U.S.

The findings come as governors in states with high infection rates are asking those who remain unvaccinated to get the shot. The study was conducted before a number of Republican governors and lawmakers made their appeals this week.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday said it was "time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks" for a spike in her state's COVID cases, drawing criticism that she has failed to lead Alabama through the pandemic.

Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican governor, also pushed for vaccinations.

"Here’s, I think, the most important thing with the data: if you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” DeSantis said Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Florida. “If you look at the people who are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”

Florida recorded more coronavirus cases this week than California, Texas, New York and Illinois combined, according to an analysis of state and federal data by the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY network.

Federal court lifts CDC COVID rules for Florida-based cruise ships amid legal fight

Pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships are no longer in place under a ruling Friday by a federal appeals court, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seek to fight a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulations.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had temporarily blocked a previous ruling last Saturday that sided with Florida officials, but the court reversed that decision on Friday, explaining that the CDC failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal. CDC cruise ship regulations can no longer be enforced but can still be used as guidelines.

The CDC, however, said keeping the rules in place would prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of their close quarters and frequent stops at foreign ports.

— The Associated Press

The days of vaccine lotteries are waning. Here come the mandates.

Health officials and politicians have tried to stay positive in recent months as vaccination rates plummet, turning to ad campaigns touting giveaways and lottery drawings. And then the ultra-contagious delta variant arrived.

Now health officials say the nation's lagging vaccine rates are creating a spiraling public health crisis as the unvaccinated rapidly get sick and the protective power of vaccines is given a "stress test." A growing chorus of voices say people who resist vaccinations should face pressure — and consequences.

Some hospital administrators agree, and healthcare workers who refused to get vaccinated have been fired or quit in New Jersey and Texas. In New York City, public health workers who refuse to get vaccinated will face weekly COVID tests.

“Getting the vaccine (should be) the easy choice,” Dr. Leana Wen, a proponent of vaccine mandates, told USA TODAY. “Opting out has to be the hard choice.” Read more.

— Joel Shannon, USA TODAY

States scale back virus reporting just as cases surge

Several states, including Florida, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, scaled back their reporting of COVID-19 statistics this month just as cases across the country started to skyrocket, depriving the public of real-time information on outbreaks, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in their communities.

The trend of reducing data reporting has alarmed infectious disease specialists who believe that more information is better during a pandemic. People have come to rely on state virus dashboards to help make decisions about whether to attend large gatherings or wear masks in public, and understanding the level of risk in the community affects how people respond to virus restrictions and calls to get vaccinated.

But experts have long advised that it makes sense to pay more attention to the seven-day rolling average of new cases because the numbers can vary widely from one day to the next. Moreover, maintaining daily updates on the virus does require significant resources for states. Epidemiologist Janet Hamilton said part of the problem is that public health officials generally don’t have sophisticated data systems, so it is more labor intensive to produce daily dashboards.

— Josh Funk, The Associated Press

US to buy 200M more doses of Pfizer vaccine 'to prepare for every contingency'

The federal government is buying 200 million more doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to prepare for future needs, such as boosters and shots for kids under 12.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration wants to have "maximum flexibility" to address changing conditions, and it’s "going to prepare for every contingency." The additional doses will be delivered between this fall and spring of next year.

It’s unclear whether booster shots will be needed for fully vaccinated people, but breakthrough infections attributed to the rapidly spreading delta variant have sparked a discussion. Most new coronavirus cases in vaccinated people have been mild or asymptomatic.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 surge last months, projection says; US to buy more Pfizer

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