Last week there were 14 counties in Minnesota with COVID-19 transmission levels deemed "high" or "substantial" by the CDC. On Friday, this had risen to 35 counties, and now on Monday CDC dates shows 45 counties with worrying levels of virus spread amid the surge caused by the delta variant.
The CDC has stated that indoor masking should be adopted by all within counties with "high" or "substantial" spread, regardless of their vaccination status.
During press call Monday, Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, indicated the delta variant is more transmissible and "apparently" more severe, while also indicating that masking alone is not enough protection against it – hence the crucial need to get vaccinated.
"The point though for folks is there just is a lot of virus moving around the country, and it's here in Minnesota. It's this new, much more transmissible delta variant. It's a good idea to heighten our alert and pay attention to some of those basic preventive strategies that we know help to diminish transmission," said Malcolm.
"But the main, number one message is – again with the increase in transmissibility and apparently severity from delta – it's just more important than ever to get good information, talk to people you trust about the benefits of vaccine and take advantage of those incentives."
Malcolm said that based on CDC data, people who are fully vaccinated are 3.5 times less likely to get infected with the delta variant, 8 times less likely to fall ill with symptoms, and 25 times less likely of dying from COVID-19.
Wearing a mask indoors in public spaces where transmission levels are considered substantial or high is one layer of protection, but probably not enough on its own, Malcolm indicated.
"All I can tell you is that I think CDC was reacting to some really fast moving data that they were aware of and just wanted to get some additional precautionary measures out to the public," said Malcolm about CDC's recently adjusted recommendation to mask indoors where transmission levels are substantial.
A statewide mask mandate cannot be ordered in Minnesota because Gov. Tim Walz no longer has peacetime emergency powers. The only way masks can be mandated now is through federal regulation, or by order of local or county officials.
Louisiana, where the governor still holds emergency powers, has reinstated a statewide mask mandate to combat delta.
Counties in MN with substantial, high transmission rates
High: Dodge, Lake, Meeker, Nobles, Rock, Wilkin.
Substantial: Aitkin, Anoka, Benton, Big Stone, Carver, Chisago, Crow Wing, Dakota, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Hennepin, Houston, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Lyon, McLeod, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Redwood, Rice, Scott, Sherburne, Sibley, St. Louis, Stearns, Todd, Traverse, Waseca, Washington, Winona, Wright.
Incentive to get vaccinated? Delta can be hard on children
"In communities that have high rates of infection in general, they are seeing more cases in children. That is to be expected because children are not vaccinated," said state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield.
"When you have a lot of infections, as is being seen for example in Arkansas, they are seeing an increase in pediatric increases to the hospital, because a proportion of those cases are severe."
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is only authorized for use in children aged 12-17 – and a majority of American residents that haven't been vaccinated. Malcolm has said previously they don't believe an emergency authorization for the vaccine will be issued for children aged 5-12 until the end of the year.
Although cases of COVID-19 in children remains relatively low, analysis of the recent delta surge in the UK found that children – who do not qualify for a vaccine in that country – played a significant role in the recent spike of the virus, which now appears to be receding again.
Stateside, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida have all seen record numbers of pediatric COVID hospital admissions. Here's what's being reported out of those states:
"We started seeing in June and definitely in July, kids coming in the hospital that were sick with COVID. So respiratory infections, pneumonia, requiring oxygen, requiring assistance to breathe, so that's definitely a change. And just in the month of July we've committed over 40 children to the children's hospital with COVID infections and a number of those have ended up in the intensive care unit. I have to emphasize as well that at least half of those children that we've admitted are over the age 12, so eligible for a vaccine and none, zero had been fully vaccinated."
"Memorial Health’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood had seven patients with COVID-19, said a hospital spokeswoman, who added that patients who didn’t need to be admitted overnight are also presenting at the emergency room with symptoms, such as fever, cough and fatigue.
"At Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, there were 17 patients with COVID-19 on Friday, including six in the ICU and one who needed a ventilator, said Dr. Marcos Mestre, vice president and chief medical officer."
Cases involving children are increasing in Louisiana. Dr. Trey Dunbar, president of Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital, told CNN that the hospital's emergency room has witnessed a "five- to sixfold increase in children testing positive," with around half of those children winding up in the ICU to help them breathe.
The number of children sickened by the delta variant in Alabama has a top medical official in the state "scared." Here's what Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Children's of Alabama, told AL.com.
“This is different folks,” Kimberlin said Friday. “This is not last year’s COVID. This is not even the horrible disease that we saw in January and February ... I am scared right now.”