More hospitals in the U.S. are going days without seeing any new COVID-19 patients, but despite the positive sign, concerns remain that the delta coronavirus variant could start filling up beds again.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country had more than 400 COVID-19 hospitalizations during the first week of June. That was significantly lower than in early January when the U.S. had more than 6,600 hospitalizations.
UNC Hospitals in North Carolina said its COVID-19 ICU ward went 36 hours without having a patient in early June, the first time in more than a year.
"You know it was really rewarding... we’ve been needing a breather," Dr. Ashley Henderson told FOX Television Stations Tuesday. "I can’t emphasize enough how challenging the last year and a half has been for so, so many."
As of Monday, North Carolina reported 134 adults in COVID-19 ICUs across the state. That was down from 243 ICU cases reported a month ago.
Henderson attributes the steady decline in ICU cases to safety protocols and the hospital’s ability to identify cases sooner through testing and vaccines. More than 41% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.
Catching the symptoms of COVID-19 in people earlier allows doctors to treat them, she said.
"Our community has been really good about getting vaccinated," she added. "Our businesses are still requesting that people wear masks."
Marin County hospitals in California reported Monday that they didn’t have any hospitalized COVID-19 patients that day, the first time in more than a year. The last time was May 3, 2020, right before a major surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the state.
The milestone came days before California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted almost all COVID-19 restrictions in the state.
"I think it’s really given us a reason to celebrate," Dr. Karin Shavelson told FOX Television Stations. "It’s given us something to look at as an achievement and we have tremendous gratitude to our community and all of their support."
Shavelson credits vaccinations for achieving the milestone. County health officials said 89.1% of residents 12 years old and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — one of the highest vaccination rates statewide and in the country.
"The pattern couldn’t be clearer that vaccinations protect us," Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said in a statement. "We’re seeing the benefits in preventing the most serious illnesses and is another reason why we feel ready to move forward with reopening our local economy."
According to Greenwich Free Press in Connecticut, Greenwich Hospital had two days of not having any COVID-19 cases last week. The news came as the town plans to drop its mask mandate later this month.
"There is a continued sense of optimism," Dana Marnane, vice president of public relations at Greenwich Hospital, said to the outlet in a press conference last week. "We need people to continue to get vaccinated. Let’s keep the momentum going."
But there are concerns that the more dangerous and more deadly delta COVID-19 variant could increase hospitalizations, particularly among unvaccinated Americans.
"That’s always a concern," Henderson said. "I still like to believe that we will not see a wave that was as big as we saw, you know, in the winter months."
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The spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus will pose a serious risk this summer to people who are not fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
"If you have not gotten vaccinated, this is a potentially very dangerous time because the Delta variant is spreading," Jha said Tuesday in the latest edition of the "COVID: What Comes Next" podcast hosted by The Providence Journal. "It’s about 6% of infections in the United States right now, doubling every two weeks. If you do the math, in about four to six weeks we’ll start getting close to half… By mid-August, it’ll be the dominant variant in the United States."
Vaccination is still the best defense, he said.
Health officials said the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are proving effective against the delta variant.
According to the CDC, more than 145 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 43.9% of the total U.S. population.
Americans received a grim reminder that the country is still in throes of the pandemic as the death toll reached a new milestone Tuesday. More than 600,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Even so, data indicates the status of the pandemic is improving. The U.S. reached 500,000 deaths in late February and took nearly four months to accumulate another 100,000.
FOX News, the Associated Press and Jordan Smith contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.