What’s Going On with Delta?


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For much of August, the U.S. South showed up fire-engine red on our map of COVID-19’s spread in the U.S., meaning case counts were shooting up. But now, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri show up in shades of green, meaning cases—while still high—are trending down.

Does that mean the Delta surge is nearing its end?

If covering the pandemic for 18 months has taught me anything, it’s that confident predictions often come back to bite you. But there is reason for cautious optimism. Past U.S. surges have played out in short, intense bursts, and some experts have predicted, based on Delta’s behavior in other countries, that U.S. infections could peak in late August or early September. Covidestim, a modeling project from researchers at Yale, Harvard and Stanford, points to another promising sign: In more than half of states, a person infected with COVID-19 would currently be expected to transmit the virus to less than one other person, in what is perhaps a sign of waning community transmission and/or better population immunity.

Still, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. The U.S. is recording an average of about 150,000 new diagnoses per day, a number not seen since this past winter’s pre-vaccination spike. And in many states, like South Dakota and West Virginia, the trends are going in the wrong direction—and fast. That suggests Delta may be moving to new states, rather than fading away completely.

The situation may become even messier as the school year gets underway. Far more kids have gotten seriously ill during this wave compared to previous ones, in part because of Delta’s contagiousness and in part because children younger than 12 cannot be vaccinated, whereas older Americans are better protected from infection. In a worst-case scenario, pediatric ICUs nationwide may be heading for a repeat of what the South has seen this summer.

While the virus behaves in mysterious ways, people in the U.S. are not powerless. The Delta variant is indeed extra contagious, but the summer surge also coincided with relaxed mask guidelines and, for many people, a return to indoor activities. In South Dakota, one of the states currently seeing the largest increases in cases, the spike seems to be related to large-scale gatherings at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. That suggests our behavior matters just as much as the virus’. Getting vaccinated, wearing masks indoors and avoiding large crowds can all help the Delta surge come to an end.

TODAY’S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK

About 445.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this afternoon, of which some 372.1 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME’s vaccine tracker. About 52.7% of Americans have been completely vaccinated.

More than 219 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of this afternoon, and more than 4.5 million people have died. On September 2, there were 631,605 new cases globally.

Here’s how the world as a whole is currently trending:

Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

And here’s every country that has reported over 4 million cases:

The U.S. had recorded more than 39.5 million coronavirus cases as of this afternoon. More than 643,000 people have died. On September 2, there were 153,143 new cases and 1,588 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.

Here’s how the country as a whole is currently trending:

Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:

All numbers unless otherwise specified are from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and are accurate as of Sept. 3 1 a.m. E.T. To see larger, interactive versions of these maps and charts, click here.


WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

The U.S. economy gained only 235,000 jobs in August, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—far below this year’s average of 586,000 per month and economists’ expectations of more than 700,000 in August. The retail and dining sectors lost jobs in August, which suggests the Delta-related surge is again putting the squeeze on customer-facing businesses.

South Africa will no longer export Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Europe, under a deal struck by leaders from South Africa, France and the European Commission. The shots will instead be distributed among people on the African continent, where only about 3% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to nearly 60% in the European Union. The European Commission will also return shots already shipped to Europe from South Africa to help aid the continent’s vaccination campaign, CNN reports.

The U.S. government will invest $3 billion in the vaccine supply chain, in an effort to help manufacturers churn out more shots and supplies for both the U.S. and the rest of the world. Federal officials have not publicly announced which companies will receive that money, but White House COVID-19 adviser Jeff Zients said yesterday that funding will be channeled toward firms that make materials needed for vaccine production and administration, as well as facilities that fill vaccine vials and those that make personal protective equipment.

Employers and private businesses around the world have begun to mandate COVID-19 vaccination. Now, Italian officials are mulling a population-wide vaccine requirement for anyone old enough to receive a shotaccording to Reuters. Such a policy wouldn’t happen until the European Medicines Agency gives the shots full approval, but it would still likely be unpopular in a country with a significant vaccine-hesitant population. At present, about 70% of Italians 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

On the other end of the spectrum, U.K. regulators reportedly may not recommend vaccines for healthy children ages 12 to 15. While shots are recommended for children with underlying conditions that put them at risk of severe disease, U.K. authorities are still assessing whether immunization is necessary for healthy kids, given their relatively low risk of hospitalization or death. The country’s regulators are, however, analyzing whether universal pediatric vaccination may be necessary to maintain safe schools.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. expert on COVID-19, added to the back-and-forth on booster shots yesterday, noting that a three-shot regimen will probably become standard for COVID-19 vaccines. He said a three-dose system would likely ensure more “durable” protection against the virus than a two-shot schedule, CNN reports. Ultimately, though, that decision isn’t up to Fauci. It will be decided by regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who are set to discuss booster shots at a meeting later this month.

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