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Why COVID-19 cases are so high — even if millions are fully vaccinated

The delta variant may to be blame in the current fight against COVID-19

Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site.
Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site at the Mount Olympus Senior Center in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. People waited approximately two hours to get tested.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Millions of people across the world are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus and yet cases continue to rise as we head toward the fall. So what’s the deal? Why is COVID-19 still spreading if so many people are vaccinated?

The answer is simple — the delta variant.

That’s at least what Andrew Freedman, a researcher in infectious disease at Cardiff University School of Medicine, feels about the current surge of COVID-19 cases. He told CNBC this week that the delta variant has led to breakthrough COVID-19 cases among the fully vaccinated, which caused even more spread than the original variants.

“The delta variant is highly contagious and this accounts for the continuing high number of cases now that we are mixing much more freely since most restrictions were eased,” he told CNBC.

Children, too, are being infected by the delta variant, especially as in-person learning has resumed at-large around the country.

“Those catching COVID now are a mixture of unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and double vaccinated people. A large proportion of new infection are in (unvaccinated) children and adolescents,” he told CNBC.

About 177 million Americans have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, with 208 million people receiving at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that 53.4% of the U.S. population are fully vaccinated and 62.7% of the population got one dose.

But cases are still rising. Just this week, the United States totaled 40 million COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. And, what might be more troubling, is that 4 million of them came within the last four weeks, according to CNN.

Indeed, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said a few weeks back that he was worried that the true delta variant wave would begin after Labor Day.

He said that many areas of the country with high vaccination rates — like the Northeast — would experience a COVID-19 surge because of the delta variant spreading faster.

“I think there’s sort of a perception that we’re sort of through this delta wave here in the Northeast because we’ve seen delta cases go up and go down in places like the New York metropolitan region. We’re also seeing (test) positive come down,” he said, per CNBC.

Gottlieb suggested that the true delta wave would come soon, and it would be something to monitor as the country movies toward the fall season.

“I don’t think that that was the true delta wave. I think that that was a delta warning. I think our true delta wave is going to start to build after Labor Day here in the Northeast and the northern part of the country,” Gottlieb said.