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CDC director describes ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ as cases climb

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 7/16/2021 Tim Balk

As coronavirus cases experience a troubling surge across most of the U.S., top federal health officials said Friday that ongoing outbreaks stem from the incomplete drive to get shots in arms.

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a news briefing.

Walensky said that even as heavily vaccinated regions enjoy a relative post-COVID calm, the virus is flaring in other areas. Nationwide, the seven-day average of new daily cases has spiked by 70% in the last week, according to the CDC, though the figure remains a small fraction of where it stood in the winter.

a person wearing a suit and tie: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky © Greg Nash Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky (Greg Nash/)

Reports of COVID are swelling in a belt that curls from Louisiana to Missouri, a path marked by counties where a majority of adults are not fully vaccinated. In places where vaccination rates are much higher, like New England, case rates remain low.

In New York State, where two-thirds of adults have received complete vaccinations, COVID hospitalizations have ticked up but remain relatively low, according to the governor’s office. The state reported two new coronavirus deaths on Friday.


Video: CDC Director Walensky warns of 'pandemic of the unvaccinated' (NBC News)

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“Unvaccinated people are at risk,” Walensky said. “Communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief coronavirus adviser, said in the briefing that people who have not received shots face “extreme vulnerability” amid the spread of the Delta strain of COVID, which is highly contagious. He stressed that studies show vaccines are highly effective against the variant.

“It’s so important for yourself, your family, your community to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Anthony S. Fauci sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: Dr. Anthony Fauci © SARAH SILBIGER Dr. Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci (SARAH SILBIGER/)

The warnings came as Americans relax after more than a year of masks, furious hand washing and limited social contact. The current seven-day average of reported deaths is about 6% of what it was at a January peak, according to CDC data, and fatalities appear to be almost exclusively concentrated among the unvaccinated.

Fauci also did not express a high-level concern about breakthrough cases after at least three vaccinated New York Yankees tested positive this week. He instead noted those cases’ relative rarity, saying that “certainly, we are seeing them, but you’ve got to remember what the denominator of the vaccinated people are.”

Still, with the numbers again turning in the wrong direction, federal officials made clear the country is not out of the woods.

“If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk,” Walensky said. “And our biggest concern is that we are going to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

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