New coronavirus cases and Covid hospitalizations across the United States have started to show signs of decline, although they remain far higher than they were earlier in the summer, and the number of new deaths is still increasing.
As the Delta variant has ripped through unvaccinated communities, reports of new deaths have reached an average of more than 1,900 a day, up nearly 30 percent in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Approximately one in every 500 Americans has died from the disease.
The pace of vaccinations remains relatively sluggish, with 64 percent of eligible people in the United States fully vaccinated, according to federal data. (No shots have been federally authorized for children younger than 12.)
Vaccination remains powerfully protective against severe illness and hospitalization because of Covid-19 in the vast majority of people in all of the studies published so far, experts say. Health officials say that most of the patients who are being hospitalized and dying are not vaccinated, while areas with higher rates of vaccination have generally fared better. Over the summer, masks were recommended indoors for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in virus hot spots and in schools across the country.
Some states have seen their hospital intensive-care wards become overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, and have called in National Guard help or sett up overflow units in parking lots. Idaho officials activated on Thursday “crisis standards of care,” meaning that hospitals can ration treatment if necessary.
Across the country, one in four U.S. hospitals reported that more than 95 percent of intensive care beds were occupied as of the week ending Sept. 9, up from one in five in August. Experts say that hospitals could struggle to maintain standards of care for the sickest patients when all or nearly all I.C.U. beds are occupied.
But new outbreaks are spreading in the Mountain West and Upper Midwest. West Virginia, where a smaller percentage of residents are vaccinated than in any other state, now leads the country in new cases per capita.
The Delta variant has caused record numbers of pediatric infections and hospitalizations, although children are far less likely than adults to die or become very ill from the virus. Some schools that reopened for in-person instruction have closed temporarily because of outbreaks and staff shortages.
For those who are vaccinated, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration will publicly discuss and vote on Pfizer-BioNTech’s application to offer third shots to people 16 and older who received its vaccine. Last month, the Biden administration proposed a booster plan that has become the subject of heated debate. And last week, President Biden imposed vaccination requirements on tens of millions of workers, aiming to put pressure on people who have not received the shots.
Asked on Tuesday on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” whether he thought the struggle against the coronavirus would become a “forever war,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said, “I don’t believe it needs to be.” But he said success in reining in the virus will depend on as many people as possible getting vaccinated.
To those who resist the shots, Dr. Fauci said: “You’re not in a vacuum, you’re part of society. And do you want to be part of the component that propagates the virus and propagates the outbreak, or do you want to be part of the solution?”
Mitch Smith and Sarah Cahalan contributed reporting.