Covid deaths on the rise again in the U.S. after weeks of decline, CDC says

Deaths from the coronavirus are increasing again as the delta variant rips through unvaccinated pockets of the country, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

“After weeks of declines, seven-day average daily deaths have increased by 26% to 211 per day,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing.

New cases are also on the rise, with a current seven-day average of 26,300 cases, according to the CDC. That is an increase of roughly 70% from the seven-day average last week.

The seven-day average for hospitalizations is now at 2,790, up about 36% from a week ago after weeks of decline.

Reflecting on the new numbers, Walensky said the pandemic has now become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” Walensky said.

Just four states accounted for more than 40% of all new cases in the past week. One-in-five cases occurred in Florida alone. Florida dropped Covid-related public health measures much earlier than most states.

“Local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community until they scale up their vaccination rates,” Walensky said about states with low vaccination rates.

The five states with the highest case rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — had a higher rate of new vaccinations compared with the national average. In the past 10 days, 5 million Americans have received a Covid vaccine, according to White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zients.

The U.S. is reporting an average of 530,000 daily vaccinations over the past week, according to the CDC. More than 3 million shots per day were being reported administered at peak levels in April.

About 65% of Americans ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and 56.5% are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Walensky maintained that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the delta strain, though studies have shown decreased efficacy of the vaccines against the highly transmissible variant.

Israel’s Ministry of Health published preliminary findings that put the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine at preventing infection from the delta variant at 64%. The study also indicated similar efficacy in preventing severe disease from the virus variant after two doses. Some experts have criticized the study out of Israel, citing issues in Israel’s genomic surveillance.

Other studies, from Public Health England and The Lancet, put prevention rates for the delta variant after two doses of a Pfizer vaccine at much higher numbers. Walensky also cited numbers “exceeding 90%” in mRNA vaccine protection against hospitalization and death from the delta variant.

The conflicting data has compounded worries of Covid infections that bypass vaccine protection. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, said Friday that someone who experienced a breakthrough infection is highly protected against symptomatic or severe disease and even has less of a chance of transmitting the virus to others.

An asymptomatic person who is infected with Covid despite being vaccinated has much lower levels of the virus in their nasal pharynx than someone who is unvaccinated, asymptomatic and infected with the virus.

“Based on that, you could make a reasonable assumption that the rate of transmissibility from the asymptomatic vaccinated person to a non-infected person would be less likely than if the person was unvaccinated,” Fauci said.

Current rates of asymptomatic breakthrough infections are largely unknown after the CDC decided to count only the breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death. That move was criticized by health experts worldwide.

Of the cases documented by the CDC, about 75% of breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death occurred in people over the age of 65.

More than 97% of Americans who are entering hospitals with symptomatic Covid infections are unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Still, the breakthrough cases have raised questions about the need for a booster dose for fully vaccinated people to target emerging variants.

“At this time, the CDC and FDA have said Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot,” Zients said. He added that the booster recommendation could change if the science indicates a need for the shots.

The White House is also calling on social media and technology companies to up their efforts in filtering out misinformation about Covid and vaccines.

“Technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Thursday.

In his first advisory issued since the beginning of President Joe Biden’s term, Murthy said that advisories usually reserved for dangers in what Americans eat, drink or smoke must now be extended to fast-spreading health misinformation because it has “cost us lives.”

“Addressing health misinformation is an urgent challenge of moral and civic responsibility that we must meet together,” Murthy said. “The longer we wait, the more lives we lose.”

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.