Labor Day kicked off the travel season in the US, amid the spread of the Delta variant, the most contagious of all COVID waves. Hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise among unvaccinated people.
Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning unvaccinated Americans not to travel during the Labor Day, the weekend mobility spread COVID infections.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day average of new cases on Monday was 300% higher than Labor Day 2020, resulting in overcrowded hospitals and an increase in infections among children.
From left to right: Dr. Peggy Honein, State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support Task Force, CDC; Dr. Cindy Friedman, Division of Global Migration and Quarantine in 2020, CDC; Dr. Jennifer Layden, CDC; Dr. Kevin Chatham-Stevens, Medical Officer, CDC
CDC experts convened by Ethnic Media Services warned that while we have experienced several waves during the pandemic, the current one is “a fairly large surge”, related to a number of factors, including the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“This pandemic continues to take a major toll,” said Dr. Peggy Honein, who leads the State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support Task Force in CDC’s COVID-19 response. “Despite the availability of proven mitigation measures and very effective vaccines, we are seeing increases in cases, emergency department visits, hospital admissions and deaths.”
In June, less than 12,000 cases were reported per day as a seven-day average; today that number is 150,000. The average number of new hospital admissions is up over 12,000, and the CDC reports nearly 1,000 deaths a day. In total, almost 640,000 deaths and nearly 40 million cases have been reported since the pandemic began.
In this context, under 53% of the population is vaccinated, with adults 65 years and older being the most covered (82% have been vaccinated) and young people between 12 and 17 years of age, the least protected (only 40% have received both doses).
“We are particularly concerned about children,” Honein said, referring to the increase in hospitalizations among this population, mainly in states with low vaccination rates.
“There is no vaccine authorized for children under 12 right now, but we can all do our part to protect children by vaccinating as many people as possible that are age 12 and over, and using other mitigation strategies, like wearing masks ”.
The doctor also mentioned the reopening of schools in more counties across the country, in which “comprehensive layered prevention approaches” should be implemented. That means the use of several measures parallely: the promotion of vaccination, the universal use of masks, physical distancing, screening testing to identify and isolate cases quickly, and improving ventilation.
“It has become even clearer over the last year, how important schools are not just for education, but for the overall mental and physical health of our children, so it is easy for transmission to occur when we let our guard down,” Honein added.
She also pointed out that care should be increased in indoor public places where there could be crowding and, particularly in counties that have high levels of transmission that can be looked up in this CDC checker tool.
Watch episode 5 of Keeping It Honest and Real on COVID-19
Jennifer Layden, Deputy Director of the CDC Office of Science, explained the latest CDC recommendations regarding people with moderate to severely compromised immune systems, who cannot get the same level of protection as others with current vaccines.
“They must receive an additional dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, at least 20 days after a second dose of any of the vaccines.”
Booster shots will be offered free of charge as the first doses, once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has completed an independent evaluation to determine their safety and efficacy.
“The estimated effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine against any infection, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, decreased from 91% to 66%, once the Delta variant became predominant,” acknowledged Layden. “However, our research with frontline workers and medical personnel shows that the vaccine still provides strong protection (against COVID-19).”
According to Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of the Travelers’ Health Branch at the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, the warning for all travelers is to get vaccinated regardless of the level of risk to the country they are going, although it is recommended to check travel alerts for those destinations.
“Anyone who is eligible must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before traveling due to the Delta variant … vaccinated people who travel must still take precautions, such as masking and social distancing,” she said.
While viruses are not easily spread on flights due to the way the air is circulated and filtered on airplanes, security lines and airport terminals are crowded spaces, requiring close contact with other people.
If someone is vaccinated, they do not need to be tested before traveling, nor do they need to go into quarantine. To enter the United States, if someone is not vaccinated, they must show a negative COVID test taken no more than three days before the trip. Experts recommend checking local requirements for travelers who want to visit multiple states.