COVID-19 cases in US jumped 26% over last 3 weeks, CDC data shows

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States has jumped more than 26% over the last three weeks, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

On Oct. 24, the CDC reported the country’s seven-day average of cases at 63,800. Three weeks later, on Nov. 14, the CDC was reporting the seven-day average had jumped to 80,800 — an increase of 26.5%.

Cases had begun to taper off in the United States after the delta variant surged this summer. At its peak, the seven-day average at the beginning of September was above 164,000. 

The contagious delta variant is driving up COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Mountain West and fueling disruptive outbreaks in the north, a worrisome sign of what could be ahead this winter in the U.S.

While trends are improving in Florida, Texas and other Southern states that bore the worst of the summer surge, it’s clear that delta isn’t done with the United States. COVID-19 is moving north and west for the winter as people head indoors, close their windows and breathe stagnant air.

"We’re going to see a lot of outbreaks in unvaccinated people that will result in serious illness, and it will be tragic," said Dr. Donald Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

In recent days, a Vermont college suspended social gatherings after a spike in cases tied to Halloween parties. Boston officials shut down an elementary school to control an outbreak. Hospitals in New Mexico and Colorado are overwhelmed.

RELATED: Colorado: Some hospitals anticipate ICU bed shortage amid COVID-19 surge

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their highest peak since last December, according to state data, and the health department said 30% of the state’s facilities are anticipating ICU bed shortages within the next week. As of last Wednesday, Colorado had nearly 1,280 hospitalizations, with 80% made up of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, according to the health department’s data dashboard.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis issued two executive orders in response to the hospitalization increase — one calling for additional National Guard resources and another ordering hospitals and emergency departments to transfer or stop admitting new patients due to the lack of hospital beds.

In Michigan, the three-county metro Detroit area is again becoming a hot spot for transmissions, with one hospital system reporting nearly 400 COVID-19 patients. Mask-wearing in Michigan has declined to about 25% of people, according to a combination of surveys tracked by an influential modeling group at the University of Washington.

New Mexico is running out of intensive care beds despite the state's above-average vaccination rate. Waning immunity may be playing a role. People who were vaccinated early and have not yet received booster shots may be driving up infection numbers, even if they still have some protection from the most dire consequences of the virus.

U.S. health officials hope the country will avoid a fifth wave with expanded access to vaccines to children 5 years and older. 

According to the CDC, more than 227 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 68.4% of the total population.

Earlier this month, U.S. health officials gave clearance for children between 5 and 11 years old to get the COVID-19 vaccine. About 900,000 children received their first dose within the first week of eligibility.

Much of the focus remains on whether to expand booster shots to more Americans.

RELATED: COVID-19 booster shot confusion? Here’s what you need to know

Pfizer asked U.S. regulators last week to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older, a step that comes amid concern about increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings. Older Americans and other groups particularly vulnerable to the virus have had access to a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine since September. But the Food and Drug Administration has said it would move quickly to expand boosters to younger ages if warranted.

Pfizer is submitting early results of a booster study in 10,000 people to make its case that it’s time to further expand the booster campaign.

Pfizer’s new study concluded a booster could restore protection against symptomatic infection to about 95%, even as the extra-contagious delta variant was surging. Side effects were similar to those seen with the company’s first two shots.

Also, anyone eligible for a booster doesn’t have to stick with their initial vaccination type and can get a different company’s vaccine in what’s called mixing and matching.

The Biden administration had originally envisioned boosters for all adults, but faced a stinging setback in September when the FDA’s scientific advisers rejected extra Pfizer doses for everyone. The panel wasn’t convinced that young healthy people needed another dose, particularly when most of the world’s population remains unvaccinated, and instead recommended boosters just for certain groups — one of a series of decisions about extra doses for all of the three vaccines used in the U.S.

Catherine Stoddard, Megan Ziegler and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.