A cluster of high COVID-19 test positivity rates in Texas and surrounding states has weakened but spread to portions of the Midwest, according to a map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Map data updated by the CDC on Monday reveals that the percentage of positive COVID tests dropped slightly overall across the nation for the week ending September 9, falling from 14.4 percent to 14.3 percent. The data is based on the results of 50,579 nucleic acid amplification tests, which are different than the antigen tests typical sold for home testing.
Positivity rates were significantly higher than average in two out of 10 regions that the CDC uses to group states. In region six—consisting of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma—the positivity rate was 17.3 percent. In region seven—covering Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska—16.4 percent of tests were coming back positive.
With the exception of New Mexico, all of the hotspots were in states that are Republican strongholds. Republican governors in some of the states, including Texas and Oklahoma, have banned mask mandates, while GOP politicians have in general been at least somewhat hesitant to recommend masks, vaccines and other measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
At the other end of the spectrum, testing positivity rates hit a low of 10.4 percent in the CDC’s region three—which includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The next lowest positive rate, 12.4 percent, was seen in region one—consisting of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.
While region six continued to be have the highest positivity rate, the region did experience significantly less positive tests in comparison to the previous week, when 20.3 percent of tests had positive results.
The CDC’s updated data also shows a small but significant increase in COVID-related hospitalizations nationally. There were a total of 20,538 new hospitalizations for the week ending September 9, up from 19,068 in the previous week.
Newsweek reached out for comment to the CDC via email on Monday night.
Distribution of COVID vaccine booster shots began late last week, with the shots now available in many parts of the country. The CDC recommended the new boosters for anyone over 6 months of age last week.
It is unclear whether the updated boosters, which are expected to be effective despite being based on a strain of the virus that is no longer prevalent, will have any impact on positivity rates heading into the fall.
Although some have expressed reservations about the new boosters, COVID vaccines have been shown to be safe and highly protective against serious disease and death. They are less effective in preventing infections, while still providing some degree of protection.
The likelihood of the boosters being widely adopted may be low, however, as a large majority of Americans did not take the updated booster shots that were released last year.
While the COVID public health emergency officially ended in the U.S. and globally in May, the virus is still a significant and ongoing cause of disease and death, and the global pandemic is still active.