After months of declining numbers, COVID-19 infection rates in the United States have more than doubled in the past two weeks as the new transmissible Delta variant spreads and vaccination rates stall.
The spike in numbers also comes a week before the Canada-U.S. border ban is set to expire — July 21.
“I think it could have an impact on the border reopening,” Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa said. “Trudeau already said unvaccinated tourists are not welcome.”
The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, with a few exceptions, and will be until at least July 21.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated that Canada would be taking a “cautious” approach to its border reopening plans and will be making an announcement about next steps in due course.
“As eager as people are to open up, I know nobody wants to have to go backwards,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Gaspe’, Que.
“The reality is we know how unbelievably costly and heartbreaking it would be to fall into a fourth wave of this pandemic. We are going to make sure that we don’t do that.”
Trudeau previously said there will be a series of phased approaches to lifting Canada’s border restrictions, with the ultimate goal of “keeping Canadians safe.”
Last week he also stressed that unvaccinated tourists won’t be allowed into Canada for “quite a while.”
Canada gradually began easing quarantine requirements on July 5, but only for fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents and other eligible travellers.
Not only could the rise in U.S. coronavirus infections affect border opening, but it should also be a cause of concern for Canadians — even if fully vaccinated — wanting to travel down south this summer, Deonandan warned.
“Fully vaccinated people can still be carriers of the infection,” he said.
The problem with the U.S., he argued, is that it’s such a diverse place and every state is very different when it comes to battling COVID-19. There’s Mississippi, which ranks dead last nationally for vaccinations (33.6 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated) compared to Vermont, which has the highest inoculation rate (67.4 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated).
“It makes Canadian travel difficult with some states,” he said. “It is advisable for Canadians going to American states that have grown in the Delta variant in particular, to self-quarantine when they come back, seek out a negative test or to not go in the first place.”
He explained that although fully vaccinated Canadians wanting to travel may be protected against hospitalizations, it does not protect the community around you from catching COVID-19 from you.
U.S. states struggling to curb spread
But it’s not just the red states that are struggling with a rise in COVID-19 numbers.
Infection rates in the U.S. climbed to an average of about 23,600 a day on Monday, up from 11,300 on June 23, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And all but two states — Maine and South Dakota — reported that case numbers have gone up over the past two weeks.
The five states with the biggest two-week jump in cases per capita all had lower vaccination rates: Missouri, 45.9 per cent; Arkansas, 43 per cent; Nevada, 50.9 per cent; Louisiana, 39.2 per cent; and Utah, 49.5 per cent.
The reason for the uptick in infections may be due to several reasons — and one of them is the recent Fourth of July gatherings, according to some experts.
“It is certainly no coincidence that we are looking at exactly the time that we would expect cases to be occurring after the July Fourth weekend,” Dr. Bill Powderly, co-director of the infectious-disease division at Washington University’s School of Medicine, told the Associated Press.
Anne Rimoin, a Canadian infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said the rise in cases stems from the unvaccinated population and the risk of infection for this group is “significantly greater” amid the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.
The Delta variant now accounts for nearly 58 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This is going to continue to be a problem,” Rimoin told Global News, adding that the latest surge in cases in the U.S. was “only the beginning”.
“What we’re seeing here in the United States… we’re already seeing this globally and there is a lot of international travel ongoing.”
“We know that an infection anywhere is potentially an infection everywhere.”
At the same time, parts of the country are running up against deep vaccine resistance.
In Tennessee, the Department of Health has halted all outreach efforts around any kind of vaccines for children, not just COVID-19 ones.
Rimoin said this was a “huge blow to public health in general”.
Meanwhile, some states are also rethinking their reopening plans.
In Louisiana, which also has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, officials in the city of New Orleans said Tuesday that they are likely to extend until fall virus-mitigation efforts currently in place at large sporting and entertainment gatherings, including mask mandates or requirements that attendees be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test.
Mississippi officials are also recommending that people 65 and older and those with chronic underlying conditions stay away from large indoor gatherings because of a 150-per cent rise in hospitalizations over the past three weeks.
Rimoin said it was important to continue taking all the necessary precautions — even if you are fully vaccinated.
“That vaccine is going to protect you from severe disease, hospitalization and death.
“But it’s not 100 percent effective at preventing you from getting infected or being part of a transmission chain.”
— with files from Global News’ Jackson Proskow and The Associated Press