(OPINION) – The US is celebrating robust COVID-19 vaccine coverage. Strangers are standing shoulder to shoulder in bars, fans are singing along at packed indoor concerts, and travelers are flying in numbers not seen since before lockdowns began in 2020.
“While the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives,” President Joe Biden said on Sunday, as hospitalizations, cases, and deaths trended down. “America is coming back together,” he added.
But a quiet new wave of severe COVID-19 infections is brewing, fueled by the more transmissible Delta coronavirus variant. “We actually have states where hospitalizations are going up more than cases,” Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told Insider, stressing that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may mask the virus’ true spread.
As the CDC’s guidance is not to test vaccinated people unless they’re symptomatic, “we’re probably missing a bunch of transmission in vaccinated individuals,” Murray said. Drilling into state-level data reveals how quickly Delta has spread. “We have 14 states where transmission has started to go back up,” said Murray, who’s also the lead modeler at the IHME, which the White House has leaned on for disease projections throughout the pandemic.
That’s “due to the Delta variant and the fact that everybody’s stopped wearing a mask and just basically stopped most precautions,” he added. Disease modelers at Scripps have estimated that Delta could be responsible for about 60% of COVID-19 cases across the US. READ MORE