For the first time since June, the number of projected Covid-19 deaths in the US is decreasing

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

    (CNN) -- For the first time since June, the rate of new Covid-19 deaths in the US is expected to decrease over the next four weeks, according to an ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And for the third week in a row, Wednesday's CDC forecast predicted that hospitalizations will decrease as well -- a bit of hope as the more transmissible Delta variant continues to spread.

Currently, an average of nearly 2,000 people die and about 114,000 people are infected with Covid-19 every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, estimated earlier this week that the Delta-driven wave of the pandemic could run its course by Thanksgiving, and Covid-19 could eventually become more of a seasonal nuisance than a devastating pandemic. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Mondaythat is dependent on getting a lot more people vaccinated.

Of the entire US population, 55.5% are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the CDC. Health experts can't say for sure what proportion of the population would need to be vaccinated to control the spread, but Fauci estimates that it would have to be the "vast majority."

Officials and experts are employing multiple strategies to try to increase vaccination protection.

Schools, businesses and employers have implemented mandates for students and employees to be vaccinated against the virus. And the FDA has authorized booster doses to increase vaccine protection for vulnerable populations.

Health experts are also waiting for Pfizer to request an emergency use authorization for a vaccine to protect children ages 5 to 11. While some parents are eager to have their children vaccinated, others are still hesitant.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said he understands the concern and urged parents to "wait until they see the data before they make a decision about getting the vaccine."

Many health experts are hopeful that more people will decide to get vaccinated as some regions strain to keep up with cases.

Alaska's Yukon-Koshokwim Health Corp. announced Wednesday that it was preparing for the possibility of rationing services due to a surge in Covid-19.

"We're doing the best for every single patient, regardless of what resources are available at any given time," chief of staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, however, as a result of the current surge in Covid-19 cases requiring hospitalization and limited resources statewide, we are now in a position of making these difficult decisions on a daily basis."

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that he believes the state is in the "eye of the storm," and urged residents to get vaccinated to help decrease the surge.

"We're going to lose a bunch more people, West Virginia, no question about that," Justice said during a Wednesday Covid-19 briefing. "All I can possibly do, with a good conscience, is continue to urge you, in every way, to get vaccinated."

Thursday is vaccine deadline for California health care workers

One of the governments using vaccine mandates is California, which is requiring that health care facility workers complete a Covid-19 vaccination series by Thursday -- unless they receive an exemption -- to keep working.

That includes anyone who works at a health care facility, including hospitals, long- and intermediate-care facilities and doctor offices and clinics.

Under an order issued August 5, the state health department said these workers must have a second dose of a two-dose mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, or a single shot of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, by Thursday.

The order lets workers ask for exemptions based on religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons. Anyone granted an exemption must submit to regular Covid-19 testing: Twice a week for workers in acute health care and long-term care settings, and once weekly for workers in other health care settings.

CDC urges pregnant people to get vaccinated

Some have been concerned over whether people who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant are safe to be vaccinated, but the CDC made an urgent recommendation Wednesday them to be inoculated.

People who are pregnant, have recently given birth, are planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding should be vaccinated, the CDC said.

"CDC strongly recommends Covid-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks," the agency said in a health alert.

"As of September 27, 2021, more than 125,000 laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been reported in pregnant people, including more than 22,000 hospitalized cases and 161 deaths."

The risk is not just to the mother. Covid-19 in pregnancy can cause preterm birth or babies born so sick they have to go straight to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

"Other adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirth, have been reported," the CDC said.

"Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time -- and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for families. I strongly encourage those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to talk with their healthcare provider about the protective benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Vaccine mandates going into effect

On the local and federal level, officials are implementing vaccination mandates to increase protection.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in a sweeping attempt to contain the latest surge of Covid-19.

He directed the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don't comply.

Those requirements are still weeks away from being implemented, but employers should expect them to come this year, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

Employees of New York's hospital system are mandated to be vaccinated against the virus, and some employees are already facing the consequences of not complying.

The St. Barnabas Hospital Health System had 58 employees who have failed to show proof of vaccination as of Wednesday, spokesman Steve Clark said.

The employees are suspended and have until Monday morning to show proof of vaccination. If they don't, they'll be terminated, said Clark.

"Patient care has not been compromised at all," Clark said. "Schedules have been created accordingly. People will work overtime, or part-timers or agency personnel will be brought in when necessary."

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