The Delta Surge Is "Peaking" in These 3 States, Virus Expert Says
"I do think we are peaking, particularly across the south," says public health expert, Ashish Jha, MD.
With more than half of people in the U.S. fully vaccinated, it's easy to think the country's situation with the COVID pandemic is improving. But when you look at the number of new cases nationwide, it's looking like a different story. At this time last year, during Labor Day weekend 2020, the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. was about 40,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This Labor Day weekend, it's nearly four times higher than that. The seven-day average as of Sept. 3 is 158,000 new cases per day, and that's largely because of the more contagious Delta variant. "We have an enormous amount of infections across the country," infectious disease expert Ashish Jha, MD, dean of Brown's School of Public Health, said in a Sept. 5 appearance on Fox News Sunday. "That said, I do think we are peaking, particularly across the American south."
Jha said specifically that cases in three hard-hit states are "starting to turn down." But with people traveling and gathering this holiday weekend, he predicts that things could change. "We might see a bump in the next week, 10 days. We have after every major holiday over the last year and a half, so I would not be surprised. But we have so many more tools now than we've ever had before," he added. "Certainly vaccines are one of them—more testing, mask wearing in key places. There's a lot we can do to prevent that kind of horrible surge that would have happened maybe last year given that when we didn't have all these tools."
At least for now, read on to find out which states are seeing numbers improve—and which areas of the country may have their worst days ahead of them due to Delta.
Every time the country has seen a major surge in COVID cases, Florida has been hit particularly bad. Cases climbed in Jul. 2020, then from Dec. 2020 to Jan. 2021, and most recently, from Jul. to Aug. 2021. But now, the number of new cases is turning downward again. On Aug. 10, daily new cases peaked in the Sunshine State at 56,610, based on The New York Times data. As of Sept. 3, that number is down to 17,691.
However, as has always been the case with COVID, after a surge of new cases comes a surge of deaths: Florida's COVID-related death count is up 58 percent over the last two weeks. On Sept. 2, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Florida was experiencing its "deadliest wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began." "Usually we serve between five and six families a week," a Tampa funeral home director told the AP. "Right now, we are probably seeing 12 to 13 new families every week. It's nonstop."
Daily new COVID cases peaked around the same time in Louisiana: Aug. 9 saw the highest number of the pandemic, with 16,543 new cases, according to The New York Times. As of the most recent data from Sept. 3, the state reported 2,625 cases.
Louisiana has seen its hospitalization and death toll improve over the past two weeks, but those numbers could be underreported as the state is currently also grappling with the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida.
Arkansas witnessed its biggest surge of the pandemic in January, with its highest number of cases in a day on New Year's Day at 4,304. But its Aug. 19 count came close with 3,549, according to The New York Times data. Now, per the most recent numbers from Sept. 5, daily new cases are down to 1,072. Deaths and hospitalization rates are declining as well, indicating Arkansas may be on the other side of its Delta surge.
The Northeast's Delta surge may still be ahead.
Jha, however, did not have such great news for other parts of the country. "Infection numbers are still rising in the Midwest and Great Plains and the Northeast, but at much slower rates, particularly in states that have high vaccination numbers," he said.
Recently, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, told CNBC's Squawk Box on Sept. 3 that the Northeast hasn't seen the worst of Delta yet. "I think there's sort of a perception that we're sort of through this Delta wave here in the Northeast because we've seen Delta cases go up and go down in places like the New York metropolitan region," he said. "[But] I don't think that that was the true Delta wave. I think that that was a Delta warning." Gottlieb predicted that northeastern states will see the Delta wave "start to build after Labor Day."
Like Jha, however, Gottlieb believes northern states' Delta-related spikes won't be as high as the numbers southern states saw as a result of the variant, thanks to high vaccination and previous infection rates, "which we also know is protective," he said.