NEW YORK - A new study of Texas prison inmates provides more evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread even in groups where most people are vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison in July and August infected 172 male inmates in two prison housing units, according to a CDC report released Tuesday.
About 80% of the inmates in the units had been vaccinated. More than 90% of the unvaccinated inmates wound up being infected, as did 70% of the fully vaccinated prisoners.
Severe illness, however, was more common among the unvaccinated. The hospitalization rate was almost 10 times higher for them compared with those who got the shots.
It echoes research into a July outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where several hundred people were infected — about three-quarters of whom were fully vaccinated.
Such reports have prompted a renewed push by health officials for even vaccinated people to wear masks and take other precautions. There is evidence that the delta variant, a version of coronavirus that spreads more easily, and possibly waning immunity may be playing a role.
The study authors did not identify the prison, but media reports in July detailed a similar-sized outbreak at the federal prison in Texarkana.
Now, nearly 64% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And yet, average deaths per day have climbed 40% over the past two weeks, from 1,387 to 1,947, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed to an average of more than 1,900 a day for the first time since early March, with experts saying the virus is preying largely on a distinct group: 71 million unvaccinated Americans.
Twenty-two people died in one week alone at CoxHealth hospitals in the Springfield-Branson area, a level almost as high as that of all of Chicago. West Virginia has had more deaths in the first three weeks of September — 340 — than in the previous three months combined. Georgia is averaging 125 dead per day, more than California or other more populous states.
New cases of the coronavirus per day in the U.S. have dropped somewhat since the start of September and are now running at about 139,000. But deaths typically take longer to fall because victims often linger for weeks before succumbing. The U.S. is now averaging about 1,900 deaths per day, the highest level since March.
Cases are falling in West Virginia from pandemic highs, but deaths and hospitalizations are expected to continue increasing for as many as six more weeks, said retired National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus task force.
Health experts say the vast majority of the hospitalized and dead have been unvaccinated. While some vaccinated people have suffered breakthrough infections, those tend to be mild.
The number of vaccine-eligible Americans who have yet to get a shot has been put at more than 70 million.
"There is a very real risk you’ll end up in the hospital or even in the obituary pages," Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said to the unvaccinated. "Don’t become a statistic when there is a simple, safe and effective alternative to go out today and get vaccinated."
Dealing the White House a stinging setback, a government advisory panel overwhelmingly rejected a plan last week to give Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots across the board, and instead endorsed the extra vaccine dose only for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.
The nonbinding recommendation — from an influential committee of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration — is not the last word. The FDA will consider the group’s advice and make its own decision, probably this week. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to weigh in next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.