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CDC head takes to the airwaves to sell change on face masks, as delta variant of SARS-COV-2 spreads to 132 countries

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took to the airwaves on Wednesday to explain her agency’s renewed recommendation for face masks as a protective measure against COVID-19 even among vaccinated people, and to again encourage unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.

Walensky said the decision was made after data showed that vaccinated people who suffer breakthrough infections have the same viral load as unvaccinated people: “And that is very much leading us to believe that it is probably the case that those vaccinated breakthrough infections rare as they might be, have the potential to infect others,” the CDC director told SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio Reports, one of several media outlets on which she featured.

However, most of the infections occurring now are in unvaccinated people, who also account for the majority of hospitalizations and deaths. The highly transmissible delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is driving cases higher in all 50 states, making it more important than ever that individuals get jabbed.

See: Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says unvaccinated are to blame for rising COVID-19 cases; ‘It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down’

The seven-day average of U.S. cases stood at 63,248 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 145% from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are up 70%, and deaths are up 6%. Areas with high levels of transmission include Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, the tracker shows, and hospitals are filling in those states. About 97% of COVID patients in hospitals have not been vaccinated.

The World Health Organization said the delta variant is now present in 132 countries, up from 126 countries a week ago. The number of new cases in the week through July 25 rose 8% to more than 3.8 million, the agency said in its latest weekly epidemiological update. An average of 540,000 new cases were recorded daily, up from 490,000 the week before.

Read now: COVID-19 — but not the vaccine — may reduce male fertility

The number of fatalities jumped 21% to more than 69,000, with the highest number occurring in the Americas and Southeast Asia regions.

Covid-19’s Delta variant is proliferating world-wide threatening unvaccinated populations and economic recovery. WSJ breaks down events in key countries to explain why Delta spreads faster than previously detected strains. Composite: Sharon Shi

The CDC’s vaccine tracker illustrates the challenge facing public health experts in persuading Americans to get inoculated. The tracker is showing that 163 million people have been fully vaccinated, equal to 49.2% of the population, a number that has barely changed in weeks.

The fully vaccinated have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
PFE,
+3.57%

with German partner BioNTech
BNTX,
+5.51%

or Moderna
MRNA,
+3.91%
,
or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s
JNJ,
+0.08%

one-dose regimen. The AstraZeneca
AZN,
-0.47%

AZN,
+0.16%

vaccine, widely used in the U.K. and other places, has not received emergency-use authorization in the U.S.

Among adults 18 and older, 155 million, or 60.1% of that group, are fully vaccinated, while 69.1% have had at least one shot, still a squeak short of President Joe Biden’s goal of getting to 70% of the adult population with at least one shot by the July 4 holiday.

Biden said Tuesday that the federal government is considering mandating vaccines for all federal employees. Biden told reporters such a requirement is “under consideration” as he visited an intelligence facility in Virginia. 

 Walensky responded to a question from Sirius host Dr. Marc Siegel on whether vaccines should be mandated for all Americans cautiously. “I think we should do whatever we can to get as many people vaccinated as possible. I don’t want to necessarily rule out that as being one approach,” she said. “I think it’s harder to do when it’s authorized and not yet approved.

“But the other thing I also just want to recognize is that some people are sort of allergic to the mandatory, and I don’t want to turn them off either. So, this is something that may very well be better off done community by community, and I would endorse any way that we can get more people vaccinated to prevent severe disease and death.”

For more: Vaccine misinformation ‘a serious threat to public health,’ U.S. surgeon general says

Elsewhere, Tokyo saw a record of 3,177 new COVID cases on Wednesday, Reuters reported, adding to worries about the Olympic Games that are currently being held in the Japanese capital. Nationwide, the number of new COVID-19 cases exceeded 9,000 for the first time, according to public broadcaster NHK’s calculations.

Thailand counted a record one-day tally of 16,433 new cases, the Guardian reported, while South Korea counted a record of 1,896 new cases. Malaysia recorded 17,405 and set its ninth one-day case record this month so far, according to Channel News Asia.

In Australia, Sydney, the biggest city, will remain locked down for another month after an already drawn-out stay-at-home order failed to rein in a growing outbreak, also from Reuters. Residents are being directed to remain at home until Aug. 28, after counting177 new cases on Tuesday.

The Irish government is planning to open its vaccine program to adolescents aged 12 to 15, the Irish Times reported. Italian regulators have endorsed the Moderna vaccine for teens 12 to 17, according to Reuters.

Don’t miss: Top U.K. scientists and health officials are worried about the delta variant. Here’s what they say countries need to do.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 195.5 million on Wednesday, while the death toll climbed above 4.18 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.6 million cases and in deaths with 611,316.

India is second by cases at 31.5 million and third by deaths at 422,022, according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.

Brazil is second in deaths at 551,835 but is third in cases at 19.7 million. Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 239,078 but has recorded just 2.8 million cases, according to its official numbers.

In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 153,620, while the U.K. has 129,591, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and the highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,801 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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