Hopes for a summer of normalcy have been dashed by a new wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. In spite of vaccines being widely available and effective, the highly contagious Delta variant is raging through the large segment of the population that refuses to get vaccinated. We are now in the midst of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” And this new outbreak is being led by two states in particular: Texas and Florida.
According to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, Texas and Florida account for one third of the country’s COVID cases recorded last week. For perspective, the two states combined account for less than one-sixth of the United States’ population. So far, Florida has been the leader in the surge. On Saturday, Florida recorded more than 21,000 new cases, the highest single-day rise since the start of the pandemic.
However, Texas is not too far behind. On Tuesday, the state reported 20,000 new cases, the highest since January. Over 6,000 people have been hospitalized with the virus, the highest number since February, while capacity is rapidly depleting as hospitals face shortages of ICU beds and staff. Experts warn that this wave could be the worst one Texas has faced so far.
The issue with the Delta variant is that it is much more contagious than the original strain; it spreads two-to-three times faster and infected people have 1,000 times as much virus in their respiratory tracts. Doctors also say that they are seeing more young people being hospitalized with the Delta variant.
All of this could have been avoided with vaccines. While the vaccines are not 100 percent effective in stopping infections (no vaccine is), the fact is that those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to get infected and also less likely to spread the virus to others. And vaccines are highly effective against serious illness and death, even with the Delta variant. According to data from the CDC, less than .004 percent of fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized with a breakthrough case and less than .001 percent have died from COVID. In contrast, 97 percent of COVID hospitalizations have been among the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated also account for 99.5 percent of COVID-related deaths in Texas.
Unfortunately, vaccines, just like masks, have become politicized and there is now a left/right divide when it comes to vaccination rates. One poll found that 86 percent of Democrats have received at least one shot compared to 45 percent of Republicans, while 47 percent of Republicans say they aren’t likely to get vaccinated compared to just 7 percent of Democrats. And it’s not just in the polling, there’s a clear difference between red areas and blue areas when it comes to vaccination. Of the 20 states with the highest percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated, all of them voted for President Joe Biden. Furthermore, the average vaccination rate in Biden counties is 11 points higher than Trump counties.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then that Texas and Florida are leading the latest COVID wave, as they are the two largest states that voted for Trump. Both have less than half of their population fully vaccinated and Texas ranks 37th in the nation at just 44 percent fully vaccinated.
Fortunately, vaccinations are on the rise in all 50 states in response to the surge. However, it takes weeks to become fully vaccinated so this wave could get a lot worse before it gets better.
In spite of the deteriorating situation, Governor Greg Abbott has doubled down on his opposition to masks and vaccine mandates, signing an executive order prohibiting local governments from implementing them (some have done so anyway). Biden has called out Abbott as well as Florida Governor Ron Desantis, telling them that if they aren’t willing to do what’s necessary they should stop stonewalling those who are. “If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing,” said Biden.