Florida has seen more COVID-19 cases in the past week than all 30 states with the lowest case rates combined, health officials said Thursday, with Florida and Texas alone accounting for roughly 40% of new COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last seven-day period.
The staggering statistic comes as the COVID-19 cases surge across the United States, driven by the highly contagious delta variant and fueled largely by the millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated.
Speaking to reporters at a press briefing Thursday, public health officials and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team once again urged Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing new data as well as the increased transmissibility of the delta variant.
“In the past week, Florida has had more COVID-19 cases than all 30 states with the lowest case rates, combined,” White House COVID-19 task force coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday. “Florida and Texas alone have accounted for nearly 40% of new hospitalizations across the country.”
The briefing comes as the CDC reported a seven-day average of roughly 113,000 new COVID-19 cases per day on Wednesday, up nearly 24% from the previous week.
The number of deaths in the U.S. also increased to 452 per day, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a 22% spike from the week before. Hospitalizations increased to roughly 9,700 per day, in an increase of roughly 31%.
The surge comes as top Republicans in some red states are battling with school districts who are attempting to follow new CDC guidance and require masks for K-12 students returning to the classroom this fall.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis passed an executive order banning mask mandates, and has threatened to strip school districts of funding if they do not comply. DeSantis is now suggesting his office could direct officials to withhold pay from superintendents who impose such rules anyway.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to enforce a similar order against mask mandates — despite large school districts around the state, including Dallas and Austin, promising to go ahead with classroom face covering requirements.
Both Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have threatened to sue any local official who enforces mask requirements. “If we have local officials who just defy law because they feel like they know better, then we end up with little dictators all over the state and we don’t have any rule of law and we lose our representative government that we vote for,” Paxton said in a radio interview earlier this week.
At an event calling for Congress to take action on drug prices, President Joe Biden thanked local leaders and school officials "who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protections."
"Thank god that we have heroes like you. I stand with you all, and America should as well," he added.
"I know there are a lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure, and that is children wearing masks in school so they can be safe, into a political dispute," Biden said. "This isn't about politics. It's about keeping our children safe."
"Our healthcare workers are heroes, they were the heroes when there was no vaccine," Biden said. "Many of them gave their lives trying to save others."
"They are doing the best to care for the people who are refusing to get vaccinated," Biden added. "Unvaccinated folks are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated."
Health officials are also seeing a rising number of children infected with COVID-19, something the officials emphasized in the Thursday briefing.
“There’s no doubt that there are more children getting infected” with the delta variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said. “As I mentioned … the delta variant is much more highly transmissible than was alpha. So given that, you will see more children likely get infected.”
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky echoed his comments, adding: “What we know is that where we have higher rates of infection among children as where we have lower rates of vaccination in general, [and] higher rates of community transmission."
"We do know how to keep our children safe," Dr. Walensky said. "We know how to do so in schools, and we know that most of the infections that is coming in into the schools is coming from high rates of disease in the community.”
"What we know is that where we have higher rates of infection among children is where we have lower rates of vaccination in general, [and] higher rates of community transmission," she continued.
Monmouth University polling released last week found that 73% of Republicans oppose bringing back masking and social distancing guidelines, while 85% of Democrats support doing so. Independents were more deeply divided, with 42% in support and 55% opposed.
“It’s expanded beyond the people you initially see at the Trump rallies,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth’s polling director, told the AP of Republican mask opposition. But he also noted that so much of the party has now absorbed the former president’s message that “all of those people who were considered moderate Republicans in the past have become, on almost every issue now, nearly lockstep with whatever the Donald Trump position is.”
“We are doing everything we can to get people vaccinated and support state and local leaders on the ground,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Thursday, in yet another plea for Americans to get inoculated against the virus.
“But as we've said from the start, ending this pandemic requires every American doing their part,” he added. “So please, if you're unvaccinated, get your shot. It's free, it's convenient. It works.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.