The five states with the highest rates of COVID-19 test positivity have seen a fall in numbers, latest official data shows, amid a growing backlash about potential mask mandates.
President Joe Biden declared an end to the U.S. national emergency to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in April, but cases are on the rise again because of the spread of a new variant—BA.2.86—as students return to school. The situation is expected to worsen in the fall and winter, when seasonal respiratory illnesses like colds and flu normally spread.
COVID-related hospitalizations had been dropping steadily week after week since January, but the trend was reversed by the end of July. Between the end of August and the beginning of September there was a jump of about 16 percent across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some private institutions, hospital operators and colleges have reintroduced requirements for staff or visitors to wear masks while at their sites to limit the spread of the new variants that have recently emerged. The moves have sparked speculation that nationwide restrictions could be set to return, angering many Republicans who have campaigned against the prospect of masking orders coming back.
According to a CDC map that tracks changes in the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in all U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regions, the five states with the highest number of cases are Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma—also known as Region 6.
While in all these states the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests—and so new infection—remains high at 17.3 percent in the week to September 9, there was a drop of 2.3 percent in the rate of positivity compared to a week before.
On the other hand, several regions and states—even those with relatively low numbers of positive tests—have seen cases jump in the past week. In Region 2, which includes New Jersey and New York, positive tests were 14.9 percent in the week to September 9—up 1.9 percent over a week before.
In Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin—grouped in Region 5—, cases went up by 0.5 percent, and were at 13.4 percent in the latest week.
In Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska—grouped in Region 7—, the number of positive COVID-19 tests went up by 1.4 percent and was 16.4 percent in the week ended September 9.
In Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington—which are grouped in Region 10—positive tests went up by 1.4 percent, at 14.4 percent as of September 9.
Overall, the percentage of positive tests across the country has dropped by 0.1 percent to 14.3 percent, according to the CDC.
Earlier this week, the CDC recommended that everyone aged 6 months and older take a booster shot of the updated Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines during the fall vaccination campaign. The two vaccines have been modified to combat a new variant, XBB.1.5, though it’s no longer dominant at this point.
While those most vulnerable to the virus remain the categories including those aged 65 and older, those in care homes, those with an immunocompromised system, and those with pre-existing medical conditions, authorities are trying to expand protection from severe illness to the entire population.
«Older adults and persons with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for hospitalization and death,» a statement from a CDC spokesperson to Newsweek said.
«In addition, healthy children and adults can still experience severe disease. The main reason to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is to protect yourself against severe illness, hospitalization, and even death.»