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Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Note: Kansas data via CDC and from Aug. 3-16, 2021; Map: Axios Visuals

The number of coronavirus cases in most states is still rising, ensuring that the U.S. has a long way to go in its fight against the Delta variant.

Why it matters: Hospitals across the country are filling up with coronavirus patients, and some are running out of available ICU beds. Until cases begin to drop, the health care system will continue to face a crisis, and Americans will continue to suffer preventable deaths.

By the numbers: The number of total cases in the U.S. rose by nearly 18% over the last week.

  • One in five ICUs throughout the U.S. has at least 95% of beds occupied, the NYT reported earlier this week, and the situation in the South is particularly grim.

Between the lines: Cases rose most in the Upper Midwest, Washington state, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

  • Some of the states hit hardest by Delta early on, like Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, saw a plateau in cases, a hopeful sign that their caseloads could soon start to decline.
  • But even if they do, it will take several weeks for hospitalizations to decline as well.
  • Cases rose by 12.6% in Florida, which continues to set hospitalization records that exceed the levels reached before vaccines were widely available.

The big picture: The highly transmissible Delta variant has been dominant in the U.S. for more than a month now and is spreading easily through the unvaccinated population.

  • New data suggests that breakthrough infections have become more common, either because the vaccines are less effective against Delta or because their protection wanes over time.
  • But the vaccines' effectiveness against severe disease has held up. The vast majority of hospitalized coronavirus patients are unvaccinated, meaning Americans without their shots are bearing the brunt of this wave of the pandemic.

Yes, but: Cases are a more limited measure of the pandemic now than they were in previous waves.

  • That's because mild or asymptomatic cases, particularly among the vaccinated, are likely slipping through the cracks.
  • And cases among the vaccinated are less of a concern than those among the unvaccinated, as they're highly unlikely to result in severe outcomes.

What we're watching: The Delta wave will likely burn out eventually, but it's anyone's guess as to when.

  • On the positive side, the spike in hospitalizations and deaths appears to have prompted a bump in U.S. vaccination rates, and more than half of the population has already received their shots.
  • On the other hand, Americans burned out on social distancing, combined with schools full of unvaccinated children — many of whom aren't required to wear masks — could provide ample fuel for the virus to keep spreading for awhile.

Go deeper

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Puerto Rico leads U.S. COVID vaccination rates

A mass vaccination event at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 31. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the United States as of Oct. 19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The island has managed to accomplish such feats amid frequent power outages, earthquakes and high dependence on imports of health technologies from outside the region.

Updated Oct 20, 2021 - World

Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate panel will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with "crimes against humanity," alleging his COVID-19 pandemic response led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, per the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The latest: The lawmakers initially said Bolsonaro should be charged with mass homicide and genocide, but they updated the report to replace these recommendations with the new charge, its lead author, Sen. Renan Calheiros, told the NYT.

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court declines to block Maine health care workers vaccine mandate

A Maine health care worker prepares vaccine dose. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an emergency appeal of a vaccine mandate for Maine health care workers.

The big picture: The mandate, which was announced in August by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, says that Maine health care workers need to be vaccinated by Oct. 29 or risk losing their jobs and not qualifying for unemployment benefits.