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Vaccinations Up in Some Surging States 07/23 06:16


   (AP) -- Vaccinations are beginning to rise in some states where COVID-19 
cases are soaring, White House officials said Thursday in a sign that the 
summer surge is getting the attention of vaccine-hesitant Americans as 
hospitals in the South are being overrun with patients.

   Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that several states with 
the highest proportions of new infections have seen residents get vaccinated at 
higher rates than the nation as a whole. Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, 
Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada as examples.

   "The fourth surge is real, and the numbers are quite frightening at the 
moment," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on a New Orleans radio show. 
Edwards, a Democrat, added: "There's no doubt that we are going in the wrong 
direction, and we're going there in a hurry."

   Louisiana reported 2,843 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, a day after reporting 
5,388 -- the third-highest level since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations are 
up steeply in the last month, from 242 on June 19 to 913 in the latest report. 
Fifteen new deaths were reported Thursday.

   Just 36% of Louisiana's population is fully vaccinated, state health 
department data shows. Nationally, 56.3% of Americans have received at least 
one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and 

   Aly Neel, a spokesperson for Louisiana's health department, said the state 
has seen "a little bump" in vaccinations recently, adding that details would be 
available Friday.

   Warner Thomas, president and CEO of the Ochsner Health system serving 
Louisiana and Mississippi, said the system had seen a 10% to 15% increase in 
people seeking vaccination over the past week or two. It has administered 
vaccines at churches, the New Orleans airport, basketball games and the mall.

   "We see each person we get vaccinated now as a victory," said Dr. Katherine 
Baumgarten, director of infection prevention and control for the 40-hospital 
system, noting that it has been bringing in traveling nurses and that 
projections show its ICUs could fill up at the current rate of infection.

   Dr. Catherine O'Neal, chief medical officer and an infectious disease 
specialist at Our Lady of the Lake regional medical center, said Thursday that 
the most shocking aspect of the surge has been its speed. The caseload has 
roughly tripled in the course of a week, she said.

   On Sunday, the medical center stopped taking transfers of coronavirus 
patients from hospitals in other parts of the state because they simply did not 
have the capacity, she said.

   In Missouri, which is second only to Arkansas and Louisiana in the number of 
new cases per capita over the past 14 days, officials have rolled out a vaccine 
incentive program that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners. The 
state lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people 
who have received at least one shot.

   Hospitals in the Springfield area are under strain, reaching pandemic high 
and near pandemic high numbers of patients.

   "Younger, relatively healthy and unvaccinated. If this describes you, please 
consider vaccination," tweeted Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer of 
Mercy Hospital Springfield, noting that half of the COVID-19 patients are ages 
21 to 59 and just 2% of that group is vaccinated.

   The surge that began in the southwest part of the state, where some counties 
have vaccination rates in the teens, has started to spread to the Kansas City 
area, including at Research Medical Center.

   "I don't want to keep putting my life on the line just because people don't 
want to get vaccinated or listen to what health care professionals are 
recommending," lamented Pascaline Muhindura, a registered nurse who has worked 
on the hospital's COVID-19 unit for more than a year.

   "A lot of them don't even believe in COVID-19 to begin with. It is 
incredibly frustrating. You are helping someone that doesn't even believe that 
the illness that they have is real," Muhindura said.

   Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency physician with Tampa General Hospital, also 
has watched the rise in cases with frustration. Unlike earlier in the pandemic, 
when many patients were in their 70s, he has seen the median patient age fall 
to the mid-40s.

   "I spent a lot of time this fall and last summer saying, 'We've got to do 
these things, these social mitigation strategies until we get that vaccine. 
Just hang in there," Wilson said.

   Hospitals initially were hopeful as cases declined. But then, he said, 
"Things just fell flat."

   Conservative Utah reported Wednesday that almost 300 people were 
hospitalized due to the virus -- the highest number in five months. Intensive 
care units reached 81.5% capacity. Health officials renewed their pleas for 
residents to get vaccinated.

   One of Arizona's biggest hospital systems issued its own call for 
vaccinations, citing an increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients in just a 
few weeks. Dr. Michael White, of Valleywise Health, said doctors were mostly 
treating people with moderate symptoms, but that began to change two weeks ago. 
Now patients arrive acutely ill.

   "This delta at the moment it is honing in on largely unvaccinated persons," 
said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases in the health 
policy department at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

   The variant, which originated in India, now accounts for an estimated 83% of 
coronavirus samples genetically identified in the U.S. It is the predominant 
strain in every region of the country and continues "spreading with incredible 
efficiency," the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters at 
the White House.

   She said the mutation is more aggressive and much more transmissible, 
calling it "one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of."

   "We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic," she warned. "We 
need to come together as one nation."

   The CDC has not changed its guidance that vaccinated people do not need to 
wear masks. But in Georgia, Atlanta Public Schools announced Thursday that it 
will implement a "universal mask wearing" policy in all of the system's school 
buildings when fall classes begin.

   Just 18% of eligible students in the Atlanta school system are fully 
vaccinated and 58% of its employees have said they are either fully vaccinated 
or plan to be, officials said.

   "Given our low vaccination rates and increasing community spread, the CDC 
acknowledges that universal masking would be appropriate," the school system 
said in the statement.

   In Arkansas, a group of Democratic lawmakers urged the governor and 
Republicans who control the Legislature to lift the state's ban on schools and 
local governments requiring people to wear masks.

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