US COVID-19 Cases Are Rising Again – What Does This Mean for People with Diabetes?
Editor’s Note: We have a simple goal: tap into the power of the global diabetes community to save lives. Visit coronavirusdiabetes.org to learn more about what you can do as a person with diabetes to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19 until we’re all safe.
This article was published on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. As of Tuesday, November 2, 2021, the FDA has granted the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval for ages 16 and up, with an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for ages five and up.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in the US. As of July 28, 2021, case rates are back to a 7-day average of more than 63 thousand cases a day – equal to that of the second US-based COVID-19 wave of last summer, double the case numbers of the initial US surge of Spring 2020. Cases are rising the sharpest in counties where vaccination rates are 40% of the population or less.
How did we get here?
Viruses mutate; it’s just what they do (virus mutation is why we get a new influenza shot every year). In order to avoid the impact of mutations like the delta variant—which vaccinations are still effective against but that spreads much more quickly among unvaccinated people than the original form of the novel coronavirus—we needed at least 70% or more of the population to get vaccinated. That didn’t happen.
Instead, a little less than half of the US population is fully vaccinated, with much of the American South and Midwest, plus pockets of other areas, at 40% or less. This gives the much more contagious delta variant plenty of people to spread quickly among, which is leading us back to a place where cases are sharply rising and some healthcare systems are getting overwhelmed again.
Who’s getting COVID-19 now?
At this point, nearly all deaths (99%) and hospitalizations (97%) from COVID-19 are people who have not been vaccinated. Breakthrough cases–cases among people who have already been vaccinated–have gotten a lot of attention, but that’s primarily because they’re rare and therefore notable. The COVID-19 vaccines are still proving to be effective, particularly against severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death, against all current variants of COVID-19.
But new COVID-19 cases are not limited to adults who have not gotten the vaccine.
- Childhood COVID-19 cases doubled in July. Those under the age of 12 still cannot get vaccinated—the vaccines are still going through clinical trials and approvals for their age groups—so they are very at risk for the contagious delta variant. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, after seeing steady declines in childhood COVID-19 cases over the last few months, children accounted for 16.8% of all COVID-19 cases for the week ending on July 22.
- Some vaccinated people who are much older, have severe illnesses, or who have compromised immune systems (like people who have to take immunosuppressant drugs because of transplants, people with illnesses that attack or weaken their immune systems, etc.) are still getting severe COVID-19 despite their best efforts to protect themselves. More people being vaccinated generally can protect high-risk people from this occurring as much, as fewer people will be carrying and spreading COVID-19.
How does this impact people with diabetes?
Diabetes alone does not seem to put anyone more at risk for getting COVID-19, the delta variant or otherwise, but other factors like older age, high-exposure employment, consistently elevated blood glucose levels, or other non-diabetes related health factors like obesity and hypertension may increase risk of infection. If a person with diabetes does get COVID-19, diabetes care and blood sugar control can become much more difficult.
Additionally, as hospitals and clinics get more crowded again, routine diabetes and other healthcare becomes much less accessible; the daily life of diabetes gets interrupted by higher COVID-19 cases, whether or not a person with diabetes gets the coronavirus themselves.
Whether you have diabetes or not and you’re vaccinated, there’s still a very small chance you carry the coronavirus, including the delta variant, without ever showing symptoms of being sick. That’s why the CDC has recommended that everyone, vaccinated or not, continue wearing masks in indoor public areas.
What can we each do to help?
If you’re not yet vaccinated, it’s time. Without well over 70% of the US population getting vaccinated, we’re headed toward another dark winter with sharply increasing COVID-19 cases. The pandemic ending fully relies on most people getting vaccinated.
If you are vaccinated, keep talking to friends and family who aren’t. Condemning folks who have not yet chosen to get vaccinated doesn’t help – it will make people feel defensive and attacked, which makes humans shut down and not take action. What does help? Asking people what questions they have, pointing them toward science-based resources and information, and continually checking in, with kindness, until they get vaccinated. Beyond Type 1 staff has really loved getting clear information from trusted science communicators like Jessica Malaty-Rivera and Dr. Darien Sutton.
And whether you’re vaccinated or not, keep wearing masks in indoor public areas. The delta variant is more contagious than previous COVID-19 variants. Continuing to wear masks around others, particularly in places with circulated air like anywhere inside, is vital.
The bottom line
We’re so close. We have trusted and effective COVID-19 vaccines; now it’s a matter of ensuring everyone who has access to the vaccines gets them, and expanding equitable access to all.
Together, we have the power to shape what happens next. Every action to curb the spread of the virus—like getting your COVID-19 vaccine—represents countless infections prevented. Together, we can lead the way in stopping the spread of COVID-19. The lives of the most vulnerable among us are on the line.