Speed Reads

'Awful bet'

Rising COVID-19 cases in low-vaccine states plus Delta variant have U.S. health experts increasingly nervous

As the U.S. approaches 600,000 official COVID-19 deaths, the news is mostly good on the domestic pandemic front. The vaccines are proving remarkably effective at both protecting people from new, more infectious variants and quashing the pandemic.

But in the past 10 days, there's been a new split between highly vaccinated parts of the U.S. and those with low inoculation rates, The Washington Post reports. On a county level, "infections are dropping in places where most residents have been immunized and are rising in many places people have not." Seven of the eight states with rising infection rates have lower-than-average vaccination numbers, The Associated Press adds.

And with the Delta variant now making up 10 percent of new U.S. COVID-19 infections, "experts worry that unvaccinated people are falling into a false sense of security as more transmissible variants can rapidly spread in areas with a high concentration of unvaccinated people who have abandoned masking and social distancing," the Post reports.

The Delta variant, first seen in India and now dominant in Britain, has already pushed the U.K.'s reopening plan back four weeks. Luckily, two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine appear to offer strong protection against the Delta strain.

With the Delta variant taking root, "it's more dangerous to be unvaccinated now than it was to be unvaccinated this time a year ago," says The Atlantic's Katherine J. Wu. "We know the virus is changing in ways that make it more dangerous. And so if you encounter the virus now, you're encountering a more problematic pathogen. People cannot go back to normal if they are unvaccinated, even if the people around them are." 

If you're fully vaccinated, especially in a highly vaccinated region, "I wouldn't be too worried," says Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the U.C. San Francisco Department of Medicine. "If you're not vaccinated: I'd be afraid. Maybe even very afraid." Perhaps "you've made a bet that COVID is yesterday's news, and that now seems like an awful bet," he adds. "If your strategy was 'I'll consider a shot if I see an uptick in cases,' that's also a loser, since once a surge begins, you won't be well protected against Delta for 4-6 weeks after shot No. 1. By that time, you may be very sick, or dead."