The U.S. has seen a string of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to summer camps in recent weeks in places such as Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and Kansas, in what some think could be a preview of the upcoming school year.
The clusters have come as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. has reversed course, surging more than 60% over the past two weeks from an average of about 12,000 a day to about 19,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In all, 42 states have seen increases in infection rates during the past two weeks.
In Georgia, the seven-day average number of new cases per day has risen from 266 on June 29 to 537 on Sunday. For the first time in the past two months, Georgia reported at least 390 new cases for six consecutive days. Deaths in Georgia remain low, averaging about six per day for the past seven days.
Bulloch County has not followed the state trend and is averaging a little less than two new cases per day. So far, 5,255 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Bulloch, an increase of 25 cases since June 28.
The rise in many places has been blamed on too many unvaccinated people and the highly contagious delta variant.
"I think we should brace ourselves to see case increases, particularly in unvaccinated populations," said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Only seven states have a lower vaccination rate than Georgia’s 44% that have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Bulloch County still has not gone over 30% with at least one dose. As of Monday, Bulloch stood at 21,280 residents who have received at least one dose or 28%.
The number of people getting hospitalized for COVID-19 has started rising again in nine states, according to Johns Hopkins: Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin and Mississippi.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said more than 99% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. in June were among unvaccinated people. In addition, preliminary data indicates that over the past six months, nearly all of the COVID-19 deaths in various states have occurred in unvaccinated people, she said.
As vaccinations increased across the United States in the spring, coronavirus infections fell to their lowest levels in more than a year. But the pace of inoculations slowed down after April, and millions of Americans now say they don’t plan on ever getting the shot, leaving some under-vaccinated cities and states vulnerable to COVID-19 spikes.
Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist, said he isn't surprised by the outbreaks as camps reopen this year after being closed last summer. He said he had his doubts that some camps “thought through all the implications of camping during COVID.”
Ideally, he said, camps would require vaccinations for adults and for campers who are old enough, and would take other measures such as serving meals in shifts, putting fewer youngsters in the cabins and requiring anyone unvaccinated to wear masks indoors.
In the Houston area, health officials said more than 130 youth and adults tested positive for the virus in cases connected to a church camp attended by several hundred young people.
The pastor of Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas, said the outbreak happened in two waves, first at the camp and then when people returned home in late June and spread the virus to their families.
In Illinois, health officials said 85 teens and adults at a Christian youth camp in mid-June tested positive, including an unvaccinated young adult who was hospitalized, and some people from the camp attended a nearby conference, leading to 11 additional cases.
No masks at schools
Ahead of the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance last week to say vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside and 3-foot distancing of desks is not necessary for the fully vaccinated.
Schaffner said he thinks schools won’t face similar outbreaks because they tend to be more structured and disciplined than camps and most got used to making adjustments over the past year and a half. But he said the best way to reduce the risk is to get most people vaccinated.
“There are many parts of the country that simply have not grasped this,’’ he said.
The COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is authorized for people as young as 12. It could be several months before regulators make a decision on authorizing shots for children younger than that. Studies on youngsters under 12 are still going on.