Two-thirds of Americans in highly vaccinated counties now live in coronavirus hot spots, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, as outbreaks of the highly transmissible delta variant – once concentrated in poorly vaccinated pockets – ignite in more populated and immunized areas.
The Post analysis illustrates how rapidly the state of the pandemic changed in July from a problem for the unvaccinated to a nationwide concern.
The gap narrowed in recent weeks as cases surged in major West Coast cities, South Florida urban centers and the New York-to-Boston corridor. By August, it closed. About two-thirds of residents living in both highly and poorly vaccinated counties are now in hot spots with high and rising caseloads.
Their experiences are not the same. It’s like the difference between being in a trailer and a house in a hurricane: Both might get hit, but one harder than the other.
Living in a hot spot while vaccinated today is much safer than living in a hot spot while unvaccinated last summer. High-vaccination states have one-third the number of new cases per capita as low-vaccination states.
Hospitalization rates in states with less than 40% of their population fully vaccinated are four times higher than states that are at least 54% vaccinated, The Post found.
Oregon is seeing such differences as hospitalizations reach all-time highs and Portland, in a county where two-thirds are fully vaccinated, is a hot spot alongside sparsely vaccinated rural counties.
“We are dealing with a new foe that’s so much more contagious, so it doesn’t require that high of a percentage of unvaccinated people to spread but it is spreading faster in those parts of the state seeing lower vaccination rates,” said Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist. “Those counties with higher vaccination rates have a fairly slow rise in hospitalizations, but the counties with the lower vaccination rates have a much steeper rise in hospitalizations.”
Public health leaders in highly vaccinated hot spots attributed the outbreaks to several reasons.
Even urban areas that can boast high vaccination rates have hundreds of thousands or millions of susceptible unvaccinated residents who are at greater risk of contracting the virus than during earlier spikes because businesses have reopened. Masks are often not required in public, and the delta variant spreads more easily. Well-vaccinated areas are not bubbles: Infected visitors are spreading the virus and residents are traveling to more poorly vaccinated places and getting sick. Breakthrough infections do not appear to be as extremely rare as hoped, accounting for more than a fifth of new recent infections in Los Angeles; New Haven, Conn.; and Oregon, officials said.