With nearly 100,000 Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 and infections surging among the unvaccinated population, it’s possible another 100,000 people could die from the virus by December, according to a recent University of Washington model.
“What is going on now is both entirely predictable, but entirely preventable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday, saying the outcome of the model is possible. “We know we have the wherewithal with vaccines to turn this around.”
Around 80 million eligible Americans are still not vaccinated – the very group that could help turn the pandemic around, Fauci said.
“We could do it efficiently and quickly if we just get those people vaccinated. That’s why it’s so important now, in this crisis that we’re in that people put aside any ideologic, political or other differences, and just get vaccinated,” he said.
With a daily average of 155,000 newly reported infections, many hospitals are buckling under the weight of another surge.
Across the south last week, many hospitals were reporting oxygen shortages amid a rise in hospitalizations from the virus.
Among those hospitalizations were pediatric patients, which have also been increasing since students returned to classrooms in some areas.
Thousands of children were in quarantine over the past week due to Covid-19 exposure, creating an uncertain start to the school year as officials, teachers and parents weigh safety precautions.
In Florida alone, at least 21,869 students and 4,481 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 in the 15 largest school districts since school started, according to a CNN analysis. And 45,024 students and staff members have been quarantined or put on “stay home” directives after possible exposure to the virus.
On Monday, data presented by a vaccine adviser from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a hospitalization rate 16 times greater in the unvaccinated population than in those vaccinated.
“This to me seems to be a strong indication that the current epidemiologic curve that we’re seeing is really a reflection of failure to vaccinate, not vaccine failure,” Dr. Matthew F. Daley said at the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) meeting.
Vaccines a possibility for children under 12 in coming months
While vaccines are currently the best defense against the spread of the virus, they have not yet been approved for those under the age of 12.
For these children, masking and vaccination of the adults and teens around them are their only protection. But that could change in the coming months.
Pfizer is working to file data that would help authorize its vaccine for those ages 5 to 11, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday on CBS.
Gottlieb, who is on the board of Pfizer, said the drug maker could be in a position to file the data for authorization “at some point in September.”
He went on to say that Pfizer could then file the application for Emergency Use Authorization for this age group “potentially as early as October.”
Gottlieb told CBS’s Ed O’Keefe Sunday that “we have to throw everything we can” at minimizing cases among school children.
“I don’t think that we should be going into the school year lifting the mitigation that may have worked and probably did work last year to control outbreaks in the school setting, until we have firm evidence on what works and what doesn’t,” he explained, adding measures such as frequent testing and putting students in social pods “are probably the two most effective steps schools can be taking.”
Schools that have been successful in mitigating spread include those that frequently test, contact trace, and set quarantine protocols when a positive case is detected.
“Using masks and improving ventilation is also going to be very important. And finally, getting kids vaccinated. About 50% of kids who are eligible to be vaccinated, have been vaccinated. So there’s still a lot of work we can do there, getting parents more information trying to encourage parents to vaccinate their children,” Gottlieb added.
Fauci echoed those sentiments when he told CNN Sunday he would support a mandate for school children to be vaccinated should the FDA approve use of the vaccine in those under 12.
“I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea,” Fauci said.
He pointed out that this wouldn’t be out of the question, saying that schools already have many vaccine mandates in place.
“This is not something new. We have mandates in many places in schools, particularly public schools that if in fact you want a child to come in – we’ve done this for decades and decades requiring (vaccines for) polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis. So this would not be something new, requiring vaccinations for children to come to school,” he explained.
Boosters and treatments
Those who are already vaccinated will still likely need a booster shot to fight the spread of new variants.
Starting the week of September 20, those who received their second shot eight months ago should be eligible for their third, according to Fauci, who noted there is flexibility in the plan based on the data that is available.
On Wednesday, Pfizer began submitting data to the FDA for approval of a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine.
On Monday, a Pfizer official said the company plans to have data from its trial on Covid-19 vaccine booster efficacy by late September or early October.
Dr. William C. Gruber, the company’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, told the AICP there’s data from Public Health England, Israel and others that speaks to the decline in vaccine efficacy over time and potential for boosters, but the company is hoping to provide a controlled study of the efficacy of boosters.
“I’m figuring sort of late September, October time frame for actually being able to demonstrate the nature of efficacy,” he said.
Looking at data through July, the vaccines still appear to offer strong protection against severe illness, the CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver told the centers’ vaccine advisers at a meeting on Monday.
“Regardless of the vaccine evaluated, all vaccines remain effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease. But they may be less effective in preventing infection and mild illness recently,” Oliver said. “These reasons for lower effectiveness likely include both waning over time and the Delta variant.”
Some hospitals in the Southern states reporting overflowing ICUs
The possibility of a third dose comes as many hospitals face an uptick in hospitalizations and a decrease in supplies, with cases in the south increasing as available oxygen – a key component in treating those with the virus – has decreased.
“We’ve had some very challenging situations over the last couple of weeks, where hospitals have had their oxygen deliveries disrupted with hours delay, putting them in a situation where they’ve had very low oxygen supplies,” Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, told CNN. “Hospitals are using 3-4 times the amount of oxygen they would normally use,” she added.
Kentucky has more Covid-19 hospitalizations now than at any time in the pandemic, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.
The state is getting “hit harder than we ever did during that winter peak,” Beshear said, adding “this is as full-blown as we have ever been.”
More than 2,000 people are currently hospitalized and 615 are in the ICU, Beshear said.
“We’re living in a reality where some Covid patients who are sick are being treated in their cars when there isn’t room for them inside the ER or inside the hospital,” Beshear said.
Northeast Georgia Health System in Hall County has more Covid patients than it has had since January, CEO Carol Burrell said, adding that 84% are unvaccinated.
Dr. Erine Raybon-Rojas, a critical care physician at Northeast Georgia Health System, told CNN that resources are a constant and pressing challenge.
“We need more critical care beds. We need more critical care physicians at any given time. There’s been times where I’ve literally started working and they’ve had to open up a new ICU that day, out of a different floor. And it’s been filled before I even leave to go home that shift.”
In Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida caused widespread devastation, intensive care units are about 88% full, with 45% of those beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Another ongoing challenge in the fight against Covid has been misinformation, the latest example of which has people taking anti-parasitic medicine in an attempt to fight the virus.
Texas K-12 schools surpass highest Covid-19 weekly total from last year
The Texas Health Department says 20,256 students and 7,488 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 throughout Texas districts that returned to school in August.
That amounts to 0.38% of the state’s 5,340,108 students and 0.93% of its 800,078 employees. Last week alone, 14,033 students tested positive for Covid-19 statewide, surpassing the highest weekly total from the prior school year.
In contrast, at its peak during the last school year, the state reported a total of 10,487 Covid-19 cases among students for the week ending January 10.
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is putting its entire campus under quarantine for two weeks to “slow the spread” of Covid-19 among its student body.
According to the university’s Covid dashboard, there are currently 159 active cases – 124 students and 35 staff members. That accounts for about 0.55% of the university’s total population.
The university announced indoor classes will be moved online and no large indoor gatherings will be held during the “temporary mitigation period” starting today and going through September 10, but emphasized in a statement that this is not a “campus wide lockdown.”
CNN’s Madeline Holcombe, Kristen Holmes, Virginia Laingmaid, Mallory Simon, Maggie Fox, Elizabeth Stuart, Angela Barajas, Deidre McPhillips and Kiely Westhoff contributed to this report.