The Charlotte Observer

COVID-19 surge ends US summer of hope

- BY MATTHEW PERRONE AND DEE-ANN DURBIN

The summer that was supposed to mark America’s independen­ce from COVID-19 is instead drawing to a close with the U.S. more firmly under the tyranny of the virus, with deaths per day back up to where they were in March.

The delta variant is filling hospitals, sickening alarming numbers of children and driving coronaviru­s deaths in some places to the highest levels of the entire pandemic. School systems that reopened their classrooms are abruptly switching back to remote learning because of outbreaks. Legal disputes, threats and violence have erupted over mask and vaccine requiremen­ts.

The U.S. death toll stands at more than 650,000, with one major forecast model projecting it will top 750,000 by Dec. 1.

“It felt like we had this forward, positive momentum,” lamented Katie Button, executive chef and CEO at two restaurant­s in Asheville, North Carolina. “The delta variant wiped that timeline completely away.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. More than six months into the U.S. vaccinatio­n drive, President Joe Biden held a White House party on July Fourth to celebrate the country’s freedom from the virus, and other political leaders had high hopes for a close-to-normal summer.

Then the bottom fell out.

The summer wave was fueled by the extra-contagious delta variant combined with stark resistance to vaccinatio­ns that formed along political and geographic lines, said Dr. Sten Vermund, of the Yale School of Public Health.

“The virus was more efficient in spreading among the unvaccinat­ed so that you blunted the expected benefit of vaccines,” Vermund said.

The crisis escalated rapidly from June to August. About 400,000 COVID-19 infections were recorded for all of June. It took all of three days last week to reach the same number.

The U.S. recorded 26,800 deaths and more than 4.2 million infections in August. The number of monthly positive cases was the fourthhigh­est total since the start of the pandemic.

The 2021 delta-driven onslaught is killing younger Americans at a much higher rate than previous waves of the pandemic in the Northeast last spring, the Sun Belt in the summer of 2020 and the deadly winter surge around the holidays.

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