The U.S is seeing another surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and more than 1,100 people are dying on average every day as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
New cases nationally topped 160,000 on Monday, for the first time since September’s Delta surge, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fall surge has particularly hit more highly-vaccinated areas of the country harder, with cases in Connecticut—which is more than 70 percent fully vaccinated—increasing 120 percent over the past two weeks, followed closely by Massachusetts, Illinois, and Rhode Island.
The number of COVID-related deaths per day has begun to plateau, with an average of more than 1,100 deaths over the past two weeks, according to the New York Times. More than 774,000 Americans have died from the disease since the pandemic began.
Cases in California are on a downswing, but hospitals in the central parts of the state, such as the San Joaquin Valley, are quickly reaching capacity. Hospitals and health officials are asking the state to make it easier to transfer patients to less-overwhelmed parts of the state, such as Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We don’t have enough hospitals to serve the population and the needs,” Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer, told the Times.
The surge appears to be hitting more Northern states harder as activities move indoors due to the cold weather. “It's cold now, and people are going to be indoors, and everyone's tired of this,” University of Iowa Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brenna told USA Today.
“People are hungry for human contact. And because of that, it’s likely people are going to be less strict about gathering, about masking, about distancing than they were last year.”
The spike in cases also adds to a growing body of evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine, like other vaccines such as the flu shot, lose their efficacy over time. A study of nearly 800,000 U.S. military veterans published in the journal Science earlier this month found that vaccine efficacy against prevention declined steeply from February to October; the single-shot Johnson & Johnson dose’s prevention against illness was nearly non-existent after 10 months.
At the same time, the study found that vaccination of any kind provided strong protection against dying from COVID-19.
One Democratic legislator in New York has taken a highly questionable approach to encouraging vaccinations. Assemblymember Pat Burke said Tuesday that he would soon introduce a bill allowing health insurance companies to deny coverage of COVID-related treatment to unvaccinated people in New York, where cases have jumped more than 50 percent in the last two weeks.
“Do your part or pay your own way,” Assemblyman Pat Burke tweeted. “Freedom isn't free.”
Burke was promptly pilloried for the idea. “I get it, you're frustrated, but healthcare or insurance should NOT be denied to anyone,” Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves said in a reply to Burke. “Full stop. Healthcare is a right not a privilege.”
U.S. public health agencies have given approval for booster shots for those who had their last mRNA dose more than six months ago (and the Johnson & Johnson shot more than two months ago) and are now encouraging all Americans to get them. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said last week that residents of his state who were vaccinated more than six months prior should only consider themselves fully vaccinated if they’ve gotten a booster.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser and the face of the U.S. public health response to the pandemic, told ABC News this week that fully vaccinated means the two-shot series—for now.
“We'll continue to follow the data, because right now when we're boosting people, what we're doing is following them,” Fauci said. “We're going to see what the durability of that protection is, and as we always do, you just follow and let the data guide your policy and let the data guide your recommendations.”
In another Sunday morning show appearance, Fauci said vaccinated families should “absolutely” enjoy Thanksgiving without masks.
“That's what I'm going to do with my family,” Fauci told CNN. “And that's what I think people should do.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.