Covid-19 cases in the United States could soon return to 200,000 a day, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has warned.
As of Saturday, the US has averaged about 129,000 daily new cases over the last 7 days, but according to NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, that number could jump in the next couple weeks to a level not seen since among the pandemic’s worst days in January and February.
“I will be surprised if we don’t cross 200,000 cases a day in the next couple of weeks, and that’s heartbreaking considering we never thought we would be back in that space again,” Collins said on Fox News Sunday.
Collins urged unvaccinated Americans to get their shots, calling them “sitting ducks” for a Delta variant that is spreading at a rapid pace and showing little sign of letting up.
“That was January, February, that shouldn’t be August. But here we are with the Delta variant, which is so contagious, and this heartbreaking situation where 90 million people are still unvaccinated, who are sitting ducks for this virus, and that’s the mess we’re in.”
“This is going very steeply upward with no signs of having peaked out,” he said.
He went on to say that the US could decide in the weeks to come whether to offer coronavirus booster shots to more Americans this fall.
On Sunday, the country’s health officials made clear they are preparing for the possibility that the time for boosters may come sooner than later.
“There is a concern that the vaccine may start to wane in its effectiveness,” Collins said. “And Delta is a nasty one for us to try to deal with. The combination of those two means we may need boosters, maybe beginning first with healthcare providers, as well as people in nursing homes, and then gradually moving forward” with others, such as older Americans.
Since the Delta variant only began to hit the US hard in July, the “next couple of weeks” of case data will help the US make a decision, he noted.
Meanwhile, the rate of new hospitalizations among people in their 30s increased by nearly 300% during the past month, according to an analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Covid hospital admissions among people in their 30s are now the highest since the pandemic hit, according to the data.
Health experts argue the solution is to vaccinate as many people as possible, because the vaccines provide good protection against severe disease.
As of Sunday, just over 50 percent of the US population was fully vaccinated. That is 59.3% of those eligible to receive a vaccination, according to CDC.
Areas with low vaccination rates have been particularly hit hard, such as Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Mississippi.
“That’s heartbreaking considering we never thought we would be back in that space again,” Collins said of surging infections. “But here we are with the Delta variant, which is so contagious, and this heartbreaking situation where 90 million people are still unvaccinated who are sitting ducks for this virus, and that’s the mess we’re in. We’re in a world of hurt.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said that the country is “dealing with a public health crisis.”
“The more you get infections, the more spread you get, the greater opportunity the virus has to continue to evolve and mutate,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday.