As we begin the slow transition from summer to fall, COVID cases continue to rise across the country. But while numbers in some states are surging, cases in other states are beginning to plateau or even fall. Nevertheless, the U.S. as a whole is reporting almost as many COVID-related hospitalizations as it was during last winter’s peak, before there was a highly effective vaccine available to everyone 12 and older. As the Delta variant continues to circulate, experts predict that states with the highest number of cases will improve, while those that have yet to experience a surge may be the next to see their numbers rise.
The New York Times reported that on Aug. 29, the U.S. reached a daily average of over 100,000 COVID-related hospitalizations, which is 40,000 shy of the country’s peak last winter. Hospitalizations in the U.S. have risen by nearly 500 percent over the past two months, mainly across Southern states with low vaccination rates. However, states with solid vaccination rates aren’t completely exempt, and the Delta variant may soon move into new territories.
Neil Sehgal, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told The Hill that the rise and fall of COVID cases “will happen at different times and in different places” throughout the coming months.
“It’s a relief anytime we see cases decline somewhere that has really been ravaged by COVID. At the same time, positive news in one part of the county doesn’t necessarily translate nationally,” he explained. After watching the trajectory of the Delta variant in other countries, experts have predicted that the areas that are seeing surges may soon see a swift decline, while others are likely to experience spikes in the near future.
On Aug. 22, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, PhD, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN that if “the Delta variant follows this pattern that it’s taken in other countries, we can expect to see, particularly the Southern Sun Belt states that are getting hit so hard right now … a really rapid decline in cases probably in two to three weeks.”
Meanwhile, Osterholm predicted a darker fate for states that are just beginning to see a rise in cases. “The real challenge is what’s going to happen with all the other states where we’re seeing increases,” he said. “If they too light up, then this surge could actually go on well into mid-September or later.” Osterholm’s prediction may be correct, as some Northern states with solid vaccination rates are beginning to see worrying signs of a surge.
Read on to see which states have experienced COVID surges of 30 percent or more over the past week as of Aug. 31, according to data from The Washington Post.
New cases in the last seven days: 69 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 32 percent
The Associated Press reported that in the past week, West Virginia saw its highest number of weekly cases of COVID since the peak in cases in January. With cases up 163 percent over the last two weeks, some state officials have begun to get stern about COVID mitigation measures. “You have to get vaccinated,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said during a briefing on Aug. 27. “The more that are vaccinated, the less that will die. That is absolutely the way it is.”
The recent reopening of schools could make the surge even worse. The state is currently experiencing over 25 outbreaks in schools across more than 13 counties, per the West Virginia Department of Education. While Justice is opposed to a statewide mask mandate in schools, he is an advocate for vaccinating children. The governor said he’s prepared to “move very quickly” to push vaccinations for children under 12, “if and when” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) green lights it. In the meantime, Justice said he is “totally committed to doing a back-to-school vaccination for those 12 and older.”
New cases in the last seven days: 71 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 33 percent
The rising COVID cases in Oklahoma have completely overwhelmed local hospitals. “In our hospital’s 123-year history, we have not seen a single diagnosis impact the resources available for others in such a significant way,” Tammy Powell, president of St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, told The Washington Post.
And the future outlook is not especially promising, some experts warn. George Monks, MD, board member of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, shared a model with local news station KFOR that concluded as many as 80 percent of elementary-aged children who haven’t gotten COVID or the vaccine will contract the virus within 60 days if schools don’t take precautions, such as masking and testing.
New cases in the last seven days: 63 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 33 percent
With COVID cases still climbing in Indiana, Governor Eric Holcomb just renewed the state’s public health emergency order for the 18th time. This most recent renewal will extend to the end of September. On Aug. 30, the AP reported that Indiana schools had more new COVID cases the prior week than ever before, with more than 5,500 new cases reported in students.
On Aug. 27, State Health Commissioner Kristina Box, MD, and Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver, MD, delivered their first COVID briefing since the end of July. “I want Hoosiers to understand that the decisions they’re making affect others,” Box said during the briefing. “It’s incredibly disappointing to have effective tools such as the COVID-19 vaccine and still have nearly half of our eligible population refuse to get it.”
New cases in the last seven days: 68 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 34 percent
Over the last weekend, Alaska had 151 people in the hospital with COVID. The state hasn’t seen this many residents requiring hospitalization for COVID since Dec. 2020. As the Anchorage Daily News reported, Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said the state has “hit new highs, and it looks like we’re not done yet … Make no mistake: This is a crisis.” Kosin warned that “if things keep accelerating, then it’s the scenario that we don’t talk about, that we haven’t talked about—that other states, unfortunately, have gone through.”
New cases in the last seven days: 39 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 37 percent
Experts don’t see the rising cases in North Dakota slowing down anytime soon. Former senior state health official Stephen McDonough, MD, told the Grand Forks Herald that the state is “heading into an absolute disaster this fall.” McDonough noted that more children and young people will likely make up a large percentage of cases. Avish Nagpal, MD, chief infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health in Fargo, told the newspaper that the current caseload worries him. “I think we’re in worse shape this year despite having a pretty good vaccine,” he said.
New cases in the last seven days: 38 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 41 percent
The spike in cases in Ohio has led to significant changes in the state’s hospital system. Local NBC affiliate WCMH reported that beginning Aug. 30, elective procedures requiring an overnight stay at Grant Medical Center have been put on hold, and as of Aug. 31, patients are only allowed one visitor. The Ohio Hospital Association told WCMH that COVID-related hospitalizations have increased by more than 1,200 percent over the last 60 days.
John Palmer with the Ohio Hospital Association believes that the surge could’ve been prevented “if we all did our part in the community.” He told WCMH that vaccinations are a key part of preventing more cases. However, “if you don’t have your vaccination, wearing a mask, social distancing, [and] washing hands” could also help, he added.
New cases in the last seven days: 18 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 51 percent
Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., but it hasn’t managed to avoid the Delta surge. The Bangor Daily News reported that on July 23, there were just 25 patients hospitalized in Maine with COVID. Five weeks later, that number has increased more than five-fold. Robert Horsburgh, MD, epidemiology professor at Boston University, told the Bangor Daily News that the lifting of restrictions and the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant likely contributed to the rise in cases in Maine.
Still, Maine’s hospitals are not overwhelmed in the same way many other hard-hit states’ hospitals are. “There’s full while you’re continuing to do non-urgent surgery and essentially staying open for business as usual, and then there’s full when you’ve canceled elective surgeries, and still you’re not quite sure where the next patient’s going to go,” Horsburgh noted.
New cases in the last seven days: 42 cases per 100,000 people
Percent increase in the last seven days: 53 percent
After hundreds of thousands of bikers attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota earlier this month, the state has seen a notable rise in cases. Ahead of the rally, on Aug. 4, the state reported 657 active COVID cases. On Aug. 25, 10 days after the end of the event, the state reported 3,655 active cases. That represents a 456 percent increase in COVID cases. Neither vaccinations nor masks were required to attend the rally.