“We’re definitely in a different spot than we were a few months ago,” Dr. Payal Patel, an infectious diseases physician based out of Ann Arbor, Mich., said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “But the thing is, we’re beginning to see this big surge. And who are the people that are coming into the hospital? It’s unvaccinated folks. So it’s not surprising. The vaccine works.”
Over the past seven days, the number of COVID-19 cases has averaged 69,632 a day (an 11% increase from two weeks ago), according to New York Times data. Michigan is one of the states faring the worst right now, with a 60% increase in cases from two weeks ago.
“Even despite all of the work that’s being done, only one in five people in the state are fully vaccinated,” Patel said. “So there’s a ton of people walking around, getting back to normal life, who are still at risk for COVID. And with the variants, we think it’s possible that it’s more contagious. We’re often seeing families who are all getting infected at the same time.”
'Something that we should be nervous about'
Roughly 112 million Americans (33.7% of the population) have received at least one dose of the vaccine and approximately 66.2 million Americans are fully vaccinated.
And while 25% of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated, a sharp rise in confirmed cases is causing concern among health care professionals. (Herd immunity for a community or a country is estimated to be about 80%.)
“The Michigan spike is something that we should be nervous about for many of the states in this country, which is that there's a little bit of an excitement for how many vaccinations we're getting out to individuals,” Dr. Stella Safo, an NYC-based HIV primary care physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live.
Multiple medical professionals told Yahoo Finance Live that younger generations are testing positive at significant rates recently, partly because that cohort is more likely to be unvaccinated based on eligibility criteria as restrictions fade away and society reopens. Furthermore, according to Safo, the recently success of the vaccination rollout has led some to let down their guard.
“There is some relaxing, unfortunately, of some unvaccinated people and also vaccinated people who are still waiting for their immunity to really catch up, taking on certain activities that we know will spread COVID,” she said. “So indoor dining, that's close. Maskless, even outdoor, close quarters type of meetings, meeting indoors in private homes with individuals who aren't vaccinated. And so, as we see this, we know that COVID will spread.”
'A race against time'
Nevertheless, Patel described the current situation as “really a race against time.”
“It’s an equation between how many people will get vaccinated and can get vaccinated, and the variant and the virus going wild,” she said. “The more people that get vaccinated, the quicker we can get back to having that summer.”
There are several mutant strains (variants) of COVID-19 circulating throughout the world, but the most prevalent in the U.S. are the British, South African, and Brazilian variants. Mutant strains are created as the virus spreads more and more and has time to evolve.
“If we can’t convince our friends and family to get vaccinated, if you can’t get in line to get vaccinated, those are really going to be the barriers to us enjoying the summer and seeing what happens in the fall and in the winter,” Patel said.
Leading health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), have warned against declaring victory "prematurely."
“The message here is, we're not out of the woods yet,” Safo said. “We are doing so well with getting our vaccinations into people's arms. But we're not at a place where we have herd immunity. And so, the behaviors have to really focus on social distancing and masking.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.