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Coronavirus US: why are covid-19 hospitalizations increasing?

The prevalence of the Delta variant is causing cases, and thus hospitalizations, to increase, despite 50% of the US population being fully vaccinated.

The surge in covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant have increased the number of hospitalizations.
Mario TamaAFP

Hospitalizations are at a six-month high as the country struggles to deal with the spread of the Delta variant. However, the spread is not equal, and true to the CDC calling the new wave a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," cases and hospitalizations are highest in states with a low vaccine take up.

How many hospitalizations are there?

Nationwide hospitalizations rose by 40% from last week, to a seven-day average of 7,707. Hospitalizations have been rising since late June, and it is the steepest rise since November 2020. What is particularly worrying is that there were no vaccinations during the last big surge, and now 50% of people are vaccinated and cases are rising once more. This doesn't mean the vaccines don't work, it simply means not enough people are vaccinated. The link between cases and hospitalizations has not yet been broken. As the US heads towards winter, when hospitals are usually at their busiest, the course needs to be corrected, or it could be a very painful winter for the country.

Which states are worse affected?

Three of the five states with the lowest rates of vaccination have the three highest hospitalizations per capita.

States with low vaccination levels have the highest number of hospitalizations


Unvaccinated people per 1,000 of population

Covid-19 hospitalizations per 1,000,000 of population

West Virginia6321153

In comparison, the five states with the highest rates of vaccination have some of the lowest hospitalization levels. For example, Rhode Island has 4/10 of its population not vaccinated, and they have 38 people in hospital with covid-19 out of every million. One area that is particularly badly affected is Florida. It currently has a quarter of all hospital beds full of covid-19 patients and had the grim statistic of the highest number of new cases during the whole pandemic on Friday, 23,903. The state also has 13,793 covid-19 patients in hospitals. Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly pushed back against more covid-19 restrictions.

A new dynamic with the Delta variant is how it is affecting the young. Due to being the largest demographic not vaccinated, it may not come as a surprise, but the group has had the shortest time in order to get double-jabbed. The most recent data from the CDC shows COVID-19-related hospitalizations for the age group of ages 18 to 49 are increasing the fastest. Experts say high vaccination rates among older adults are responsible for the decline in this demographic, but the most common denominator for those hospitalized with severe covid-19 is not being vaccinated.

Why are they increasing?

The main reason for rising cases is the Delta variant. The variant has a high viral load, meaning the speed the variant reproduces in the body is very quick, and people can become infected with a shorter contact time. It is estimated that the viral load of Delta is 1260 times more than variants from the beginning of the pandemic. Health guidance says there is a risk of infection even with people outdoors for no more than five minutes. Indeed, the CDC notes that Delta is twice as contagious as the Alpha variant first sequenced in the UK, which was itself twice as infectious as the original covid-19 strain.

This may not be as much of a problem if more of the US population was vaccinated. As of publication, barely 50% of the US population is fully vaccinated, meaning the virus still has plenty of bodies to infect. If the US is to suppress the new wave, then a new vaccination drive is required. Much of the vaccination policy has been carrot over stick, but recent news such as federal workers being mandated to be vaccinated shows a new direction.