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Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the rise in the U.S. as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads across the country.

The big picture: This is happening almost exclusively to people who aren’t vaccinated, and it’s worse in places where overall vaccination rates are low.

  • “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging about 26,000 new cases per day — up 70% from the previous week, Walensky said. Hospitalizations are up 36%, and deaths are up 26%, to an average of 211 per day.

  • Roughly 66% of eligible Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 57% are fully vaccinated.

That is enough vaccinations to avoid another wave as bad as the worst of the pandemic, when the U.S. was averaging more than 3,000 deaths per day. But it is still low enough that another wave of illness death, largely confined to the unvaccinated, is still very much a possibility.

  • Over 97% of the people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

Driving the news: Vaccinations in the U.S. have plateaued just as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus here and around the world.

  • A small handful of states with especially low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — are driving a plurality of new cases. One in five new infections comes from Florida alone, Walensky said.
  • "If you don't choose the vaccine, you're choosing death," one Louisiana doctor said at a press conference last week. The state has also undertaken a lottery with cash prizes to boost its vaccination rates.
  • In Eastern Kentucky, demand is so low that health workers don’t think twice about breaking the seal on a new vial of vaccines, even if most of it will spoil, just to deliver a single dose.

The good news: The vaccines work, even against the Delta variant.

  • Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — as well as the AstraZeneca shot, which is not authorized in the U.S. — are still highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections and hospitalizations, according to a Financial Times review of real-world data from several countries where the Delta variant is dominant.
  • Some vaccinated people can still get sick, but the risk of severe illness is far lower. Roughly 3,700 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 infections nationwide, according to the CDC — not zero, but still dramatically lower than the risk faced by unvaccinated people.

The bottom line: This is, in large part, what experts anticipated in low-vaccination parts of the world. In the U.S, however, unlike much of the rest of the world, vaccines are free and readily available. All of these cases and deaths are preventable.

Go deeper

Sep 20, 2021 - World

Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden will convene world leaders on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to push them to do more to end the pandemic — though he's also facing criticism for prioritizing boosters at home.

Why it matters: There is still no functional plan in place to vaccinate the world, and past summits of this sort have flopped. The White House hopes that this virtual gathering will produce ambitious promises, accountability measures to track progress, and ultimately help achieve a 70% global vaccination rate this time next year.

Rep. Tim Ryan tests positive for coronavirus

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said Monday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, and that his vaccination against the virus prevented a more severe infection.

What they're saying: "Today, I tested positive for COVID-19," Ryan wrote on Twitter. "While I’m currently experiencing mild symptoms, I’m grateful to have the protection of a safe and effective vaccine — and I know without it, this illness could be much, much worse."

  • "What we have learned over the last year and a half is that we are in this together, and I urge all Ohioans to help us crush this pandemic by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated so that we can get back to normal."
Sep 20, 2021 - Health

Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Monday that the Biden administration will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as President Biden seeks commitments from countries to donate vaccines to the global COVAX initiative. He is expected to host a COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week, and many of the countries attending have expressed frustration with the travel ban.