With the continued spread of the more infectious Delta variant, health and elected officials warned that hospitals across the country are reaching critical levels of Covid-19 patients, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.
Overall hospitalizations are continuing to increase across Alabama as the "pandemic of unvaccinated people continues," state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said on Friday. Alabama hospitals have a negative capacity of ICU beds available, he said, and the state is seeing the highest number of Covid-19 cases among children than at any other time during the pandemic.
Louisiana has seen an "astronomical" number of Covid-19 cases during the latest surge, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards, as infections are increasing particularly among younger populations.
"I can tell you that for the last couple of days, 28% of all the new cases that we're reporting are in children zero to 17," he said on Friday.
And Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said more people in the state were admitted to the hospital on Wednesday than any other single day. Nearly everyone in the ICU for Covid-19 is unvaccinated and six of the state's largest hospitals are at 100% capacity for ICU beds, she said.
In Florida, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on Friday asked residents to conserve water as liquid oxygen -- typically used to treat the community's water supply -- was being diverted to hospitals locally and statewide to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients.
According to data from the US Department of Health & Human Services, more than 17,000 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 statewide.
"This is another impact of the virus continuing to surge in our community," the mayor said in a Facebook post. "And it's another result of what happens when residents do not get the vaccine and become critically ill, needing medical support and treatment."
Here's the good news: Covid-19 vaccinations also continue to climb.
Saturday was the the third day in a row that more than 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses were reported administered in a single day, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The last time that happened was the first week of July.
Over the last week, an average of 466,074 people have initiated vaccination each day, the data shows. About 170 million people -- or 51.3% of the total US population -- are now fully vaccinated. And nearly 201 million people -- 60.5% of the total population -- have received at least on dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Pfizer vaccine approval expected soon
Amid the rising case numbers, experts and officials are hopeful that an anticipated decision by the US Food and Drug Administration granting full approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will help persuade more Americans about its efficacy, getting those who are eligible and vaccine-hesitant on board with inoculations.
A person familiar with the plan told CNN the decision is expected early next week, and a Biden administration official said approval of the two-dose vaccine, which has been distributed under emergency use authorization from the FDA, "could be as early as Monday."
Each vaccine currently available in the United States has been authorized for emergency use. Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine would be the first to receive full approval.
The New York Times reported that the FDA was pushing to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday, according to people familiar with the agency's planning.
"To all of those people who said they've been waiting for full approval, I hope you'll go to vaccines.gov this weekend and make your appointment for next week, because again, it's coming," former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "What you asked for is coming."
Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN's Jim Acosta Saturday that full authorization may help convince those who are "on the fence about whether or not to get vaccinated."
"It's also going to be helpful for some institutions that were hesitant about mandating vaccination, and the fact that it will be fully approved makes them less hesitant to do that," Frieden said.
"We're seeing in more settings -- whether health care, or schools or workplaces -- that mandating vaccination, mandating masks is the way to get back to an economy, to get back to learning in person and to save a lot of lives."
More colleges are requiring vaccines
To ward off greater spreads of infection, additional college campuses and school systems are instituting vaccine requirements to attend classes or sporting events.
All students at state colleges, universities and community colleges throughout the state of Nevada will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 this fall in order to sign up for in-person spring classes, according to Gov. Steve Sisolak's office. The mandate was approved by the state board of health Friday afternoon.
Nevada students must provide proof of vaccination by November 1 in order to be able to enroll in the following semester's classes. The mandate will be in effect for at least 120 days and provides for medical and religious exemptions. Additionally, students who do not attend classes in person are exempt.
The University of Oregon announced that attendees ages 12 and older at university activities and sporting events must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test beginning Monday. The state government earlier this week announced a vaccine requirement for all K-12 teachers and staff.
At least one university has already started enforcing its vaccine mandates. The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has disenrolled 238 students for its fall semester on Friday for not complying with the university's Covid-19 vaccine mandate, according to university spokesperson Brian Coy.
About 96.6% of UVA's student body is vaccinated, Coy said, while about 1.3% were allowed to claim religious or medical exemptions. Students who were enrolled at the university on Wednesday still have a week to update their vaccination status, at which point they can then re-enroll.
Significant racial disparities found in excess deaths last year, data shows
Meanwhile, researchers continue to examine the effects of the pandemic in 2020, before the widespread distribution of vaccines that helped keep those infected out of hospitals.
Not only did adults ages 65 and older see higher rates of excess deaths last year compared with other age groups, according to new research, but significant racial disparities were found as well.
Among adults 65 and older, the highest rates of excess deaths were in Black and Hispanic people, according to a new study published by the CDC on Thursday. Among people younger than 65, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native people had the highest rates compared with other racial and ethnic groups.
The findings "have been driven, in part, by factors such as occupational risk, socioeconomic factors, housing conditions, reduced access to health care, and discrimination," the researchers from the US National Center for Health Statistics, Yale University and Harvard Medical School wrote in their new study.
The researchers analyzed data from the CDC's National Vital Statistics System on the weekly number of deaths from all causes and Covid-19 that occurred between December 29, 2019, and January 2, 2021. The researchers examined population estimates from the US Census Bureau for previous years, from 2015 to 2019, to model how many deaths would normally be expected through the year 2020.
"The resulting weekly expected numbers of deaths were subtracted from the observed numbers of deaths to generate estimates of excess deaths," the researchers wrote.
In the data, they identified racial disparities across all age groups when it came to rates of excess deaths. Overall, they wrote that "these findings could help guide more tailored public health messaging and mitigation efforts to reduce disparities in mortality associated with the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, by identifying the racial/ethnic groups and age groups with the highest excess mortality rates."
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