Delta variant accounts for 58% of US infections; Missouri requests field hospital: COVID-19 updates

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 rose in more than half of U.S. states over the past week as vaccination rates slow and the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the globe.

Forty-seven states reported more new COVID-19 cases last week than in the week before, and deaths rose in 30 states compared to a week earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

In Missouri, where cases are surging, one county asked the state for funding Wednesday to establish an "alternate care site" for COVID-19 patients.

"Over the past week, we have seen dramatic increases in COVID-19-related cases," Katie Towns, interim director for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said at a press conference. "We need help."

Hospital admissions are also expected to increase over the next four weeks, an ensemble forecast by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted Wednesday. The U.S. may see up to 11,000 new hospital admissions reported on Aug. 9, according to the forecast.

Worldwide, cases declined steadily for two months but rose 10% compared to the previous week, the World Health Organization said. The number of weekly deaths, which declined steadily for nine consecutive weeks, also increased.

"The increased transmissibility associated with the delta variant is likely to result in substantial increases in case incidence and greater pressure on healthcare systems, particularly in contexts of low vaccine coverage," the United Nations health agency said.

The delta variant, first identified in India, accounts for nearly 58% of U.S. infections, CDC data suggests. The variant has been detected in at least 111 countries and is likely to become the dominant variant globally "over the coming months," the WHO said.

Less than a quarter of the world's population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and there are "vast inequities" in vaccine distribution and administration, with the majority of vaccines administered in a small number of high and upper-middle-income countries, the WHO said.

Also in the news:

►Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law Wednesday that would prohibit public schools and colleges from requiring individuals to receive vaccines not granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

►More than 600,000 Michigan residents may have to pay back pandemic-related unemployment aid after the state learned that some reasons for eligibility approved months ago were wrong.

►After Greek authorities recorded nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, a group of more than 5,000 anti-vaccine protesters rallied in Athens to oppose the country's vaccination program.

►Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first round of $50,000 "MI Shot To Win" daily drawing winners Wednesday. Three metro Detroit residents were among the initial four who won $50,000 each for getting their COVID-19 vaccines this month.

►Connecticut lawmakers voted Wednesday to again extend Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's emergency declarations first issued during the early days of the pandemic, despite pushback from Republicans and some Democrats who argued it's time to get back to normal.

►Johnson & Johnson said its one-dose shot protects against the delta variant and produces an immune response that lasts eight months and counting. The company announced the preprint study results earlier this month and published the interim study results in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

►The Washington Monument reopened to the public Wednesday after being closed for six months due to COVID-19 safety measures.

►Los Angeles County is reporting the fifth straight day of more than 1,000 new cases. County officials said the five-day average of cases is 1,095 – a jump of more than 500% in just one month.

►Daily coronavirus cases in Britain rose above 40,000 for the first time in nearly six months Wednesday. Meanwhile, Britain's Johanna Konta announced she won't compete at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 33.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 608,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 188.2 million cases and more than 4.05 million deaths. Nearly 160 million Americans – 48.1% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Are play dates safe? What about flights? As parents struggle to determine what summer activities are safe for their unvaccinated kids, USA TODAY called on health experts to rate 10 events.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Health leaders seek 'alternate care site' to ease COVID-19 burden

One Missouri county asked the state for funding to establish an "alternate care site" for COVID-19 patients amid a surge of cases due to the delta variant.

As new Springfield-area infections reached levels not seen since mid-January, leaders from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, the Greene County Office of Emergency Management, CoxHealth and Mercy announced a new bid to quickly get state-level funding in place to establish an "alternate care site" for COVID-19 patients.

The alternate care site would help Greene County's hospitals address the flood of patients they've been seeing in recent weeks, as the delta variant sweeps its way through the unvaccinated population in Missouri, officials said during a crisis update at the Greene County Public Safety Center.

The alternate care site would be a facility for delivering "transitional care, to patients who are stable enough to be released from the hospital," Towns said. Read more.

– Gregory J. Holman, Springfield News-Leader

Mike Pence: Evidence 'strongly suggests' COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab

Former Vice President Mike Pence, in a blistering speech about China on Wednesday, said the United States must demand that Chinese leaders "come clean" about the origins of COVID-19.

"The evidence strongly suggests the coronavirus leapt out of the Chinese lab," Pence said during remarks at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank where he is a visiting fellow.

Pence, who lead the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, did not elaborate on that evidence.

In a paper posted Wednesday, a team of 21 virologists said there's currently no evidence that the coronavirus began in a lab. But there is "substantial body of scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin," the scientists wrote. Read more.

– Maureen Groppe

With Olympics days away, Tokyo virus cases approach 6-month high

With the Tokyo Olympics opening in just over a week, Tokyo reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in almost six months on Wednesday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.

The surging numbers came out on the same day that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach paid a courtesy call in Tokyo on Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Suga and Bach have both pledged that the Tokyo Olympics will be "safe and secure" despite the games opening with Tokyo and neighboring prefectures under a national government-imposed state of emergency. Read more.

Olivia Rodrigo speaks in support of Biden, Fauci vaccine campaign

Pop star Olivia Rodrigo headed to the White House on Wednesday to meet with President Joe Biden and chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s effort to get young people vaccinated, officials were expected to make videos with Rodrigo to talk about the importance of the vaccine and answer important questions young people might have.

"It's important to have conversations with friends and family members encouraging all communities to get vaccinated and actually get to a vaccination site," the 18-year-old singer said at a press briefing. "Thank you all for helping share this important message. It's so appreciated."

The Pfizer vaccine was approved to inoculate children 12 years old and up in May. About 33.5% of 12-to 15-year-old Americans have at least one dose of the vaccine, and 24.9% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

The administration has previously worked with young influencers on TikTok and gaming platforms to take their initiative "one step forward" in reaching younger audiences. Read more.

– Charles Trepany

Hazardous goods found for sale after consumer protection inspectors were pulled from ports during COVID-19

The government’s consumer watchdog agency has discovered widely ranging hazards among toys and other products now for sale after it secretly stopped routine inspections of imports during the pandemic.

But the Consumer Product Safety Commission still has not answered basic questions from lawmakers about the risks to consumers from its decision to send its port inspectors home for nearly six months, a safety lapse first exposed by USA TODAY.

In a new report to Congress, the agency also failed to disclose what it plans to do about dangerous products on the market.

It turned up many concerns in a pair of spot checks to assess the potential harm, including red flags in the paperwork of 40 percent of the 56 companies it deemed at highest risk for having imported unsafe products during the port inspection shutdown. The agency said it followed up with inspections and now is acting on "potential violations discovered." Read more.

– Letitia Stein and Tricia L. Nadolny

Why experts expected Guillain-Barré to appear in some vaccine recipients

Even though the Food and Drug Administration updated the warning label on Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine to include an increased risk of a rare neurological disorder, health experts say Americans shouldn’t worry.

The CDC estimates 3,000 to 6,000 people develop Guillain-Barré syndrome in the U.S. each year. The odds of developing GBS after getting the COVID-19 shot, experts say, are less than getting it from other vaccines, bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"The risk of getting COVID and developing severe disease or long COVID is so much more than your risk of developing a rare syndrome of the vaccine," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist and internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "You should put your arm out and get the shot." Read more.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

US overdose deaths hit record 93,000 in 2020

Overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government reported Wednesday. That estimate eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase.

"This is a staggering loss of human life," said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends.

The nation was already struggling with its worst overdose epidemic but clearly "COVID has greatly exacerbated the crisis," he added. Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get, experts said. Read more.

2 rural Indiana counties battle vaccine culture war, only 1 is winning

Nestled in the southeast corner of Indiana along the Kentucky border, Switzerland and Ohio counties share much in common: They are rural riverside communities with no major highways. They are overwhelmingly white — both about 96% — and not particularly wealthy, with median household incomes below $32,000.

But in one significant way, these two neighboring counties could not be more different. Ohio County has the state’s third-highest vaccination rate. Switzerland County has the fourth-lowest vaccination rate. Read the full story.

– Ko Lyn Cheang, Indianapolis Star

Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Delta variant accounts for 58% of infections; COVID cases, deaths rise