When Will the Delta Variant Peak Nationally? 

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Dr. Scott Gottlieb during his confirmation hearing for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Washington, D.C., April 5, 2017 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Has the Delta variant peaked? The good news is that in the southern states that have been hit so hard by the most recent wave, the numbers are slowly moving in the right direction.

“I thought there was an indication the South was peaking, and I think it’s pretty clear right now the South has peaked,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said. “It doesn’t feel that way because we still have a lot of new infections on a day-over-day basis, and the hospitals still have some very hard weeks ahead,” he acknowledged. “They’re still going to get maxed out as the infections start to decline.”

Nationally, it’s a bit harder to say. We still haven’t seen any decline in the national case numbers from the CDC. On the charts of Worldometers, on Friday August 20, the seven-day average of daily new cases was at 144,001, and yesterday, that average was down to 124,822. We shouldn’t get too excited, as that may just reflect slower reporting of cases on weekends.

If you subscribe to the theory that the virus spreads faster in places where people spend more time indoors — say, in parts of the country experiencing extreme heat that sends people inside for air conditioning — then the cooler temperatures of fall in much of the country should help. But there’s a catch. The weather gets cooler as autumn turns to winter, and later this year the northern states may find themselves with rising case rates, driven by more people spending time indoors as it gets colder outside. There are still plenty of unvaccinated people in those northern states; Vermont still leads the country with a bit more than 75 percent of residents having at least one shot. A bit more than 61 percent of Minnesotans have one shot. One-third of New York State residents haven’t received any shots, and the percentages are similar for Washington state. Barely more than half of Montanans have one shot; less than half of North Dakotans have a shot. Only 54 percent of Michiganders have at least one shot.

Maybe a significant portion of the unvaccinated in those states have lingering protection from past infections. But we’re still talking about a lot of people. New York can boast that 78.4 percent of its residents, age 18 or older, have at least one shot. That’s almost 12 million people! The bad news is, the state still has about 3.3 million people who aren’t vaccinated, and New York has only had 2.3 million diagnosed cases. And a decent chunk of those 12 million vaccinated New Yorkers will need booster shots in the coming months.

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The Delta variant may be finishing up with the south, but it may be shifting toward the north in the months to come.

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