US records more than 70,000 new daily COVID-19 cases, 462 deaths

The delta coronavirus variant has fueled a surge of COVID-19 infections across the United States with more than 70,000 new COVID cases reported in a single day Tuesday.

According to the latest data reported Wednesday by Johns Hopkins University, there were 70,740 new cases on Tuesday and 462 deaths. Meanwhile, the nation is now averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

And as cases continue to increase, new studies show there are no signs of the hyper-contagious variant slowing down — foreshadowing that the pandemic may not be over as quickly as many hoped.

Projections released last week by the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub show a continued and accelerated increase in cases and deaths, with numbers peaking in mid-October to around 60,000 cases and around 850 deaths per day in the most likely scenario.

Cases continue to rise daily, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates, and as a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in areas where the variant is prevalent. 

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CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reiterated several times Tuesday that the "vast majority" of transmission happening in the country right now is occurring among unvaccinated individuals. Additionally, people who weren't vaccinated make up nearly all hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Right now, the majority of counties in the U.S. have high transmission rates, with several southern states in the red. Nearly every county in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are seeing high transmission rates, according to CDC data.

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Officials say the uptick in cases is primarily fueled by the delta variant — which is more than 200% more transmissible than the original coronavirus. A new study suggests the viral load of the delta variant is 1,000 times higher than the original strain of the virus.

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The delta variant is a mutated version of the novel coronavirus that spreads more easily than other strains. It now accounts for an estimated 83% of COVID-19 cases in the United States as it continues to surge largely among unvaccinated populations, officials said.

More than 163 million people, or 49.2% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57.6%.