The last time the seven-day average surpassed 100,000 cases was on February 11, according to the data. The country hit a 2021 low average of 11,299 daily cases on June 22.

As half of the US population remains unvaccinated, hospitalizations and deaths have climbed, too.

More than 63,250 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Friday — a number that has generally climbed since a 2021 low of 16,152 on June 29, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The alarming uptick in cases and hospitalizations comes as millions of students are returning to schools in-person.

And conversations about mask mandates in schools are once again shaping the debate on mitigation efforts between state and local school officials.

In Florida, which has the highest Covid-19 hospitalization rate in the country, school officials told CNN on Saturday that they want to keep their students and staff masked. But they are concerned about the anti-mask mandate stance taken by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who threatened to pull funding from schools that implement such requirement.

“We’ve already seen children are sick right here in Broward County. We have a high school student that is fighting for her life with Covid. We’ve had two students throughout the state of Florida this past couple of weeks that have passed away from Covid,” Anna Fusco, president of Broward Teachers Union, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Saturday.

“So students are dying. And to have this mandate with funds held over our head if we go forward with it just shows really, really poor leadership in our governor.”

DeSantis issued an executive order last week, telling the state’s health and education departments to create rules preventing local school mask mandates. Two different lawsuits have since been filed against the Republican governor over the executive order.
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Andrew Spar, president of Florida Education Association, said some districts are mandating masks, but allowing parents to opt out their children to get around DeSantis’ order.

Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa will require face coverings when schools starts, but parents will have the opt-out option, Superintendent Addison Davis said Saturday in a statement.

“While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County Public Schools takes public safety seriously,” said Davis, adding that masks are optional for employees.

Orange County Public Schools in Orlando is also adopting the same opt-out rule for students, but employees, visitors, volunteers and parents will be required to wear masks, the district said.

Florida has fully vaccinated 49.5% of its total population, but the rate of virus transmission is still high, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the CDC recommends that everyone — students, teachers, staff and visitors — wear masks in schools.

Hospitals in the South are struggling

Meanwhile, Southern states are also seeing an increasing number of young people contract Covid-19 and be hospitalized because of it.

“Something very scary now is happening in the Southern United States. We are seeing this massive surge of hospitalizations of young people that we’ve never seen before in hospitals across the South,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday.

“Our Texas Medical Center now is getting hit very hard here in Houston with lots and lots of Covid admissions. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s many, many young people, including, I’m sorry to say, many children’s hospital admissions. And for the first time that I can remember, we’re starting to see pediatric intensive care units get overwhelmed, which we never really saw before.”

An 11-month-old girl, Ava Amira Rivera, who tested positive for Covid-19 had to be airlifted to a Texas hospital 150 miles away because of a shortage of pediatric beds in the Houston area. The baby became stable and is no longer intubated.
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None of the major pediatric hospitals in the area had beds available, said Amanda Callaway, a spokeswoman for Harris Health System.

Hotez added that hospitals are also struggling with staffing, too.

“The Texas Medical Center has a lot of heft. We have the beds. It’s a matter of all of the nursing staff across the different hospitals in the state of Texas. A lot of nurses and hospital staff are exhausted, too, and have left their post over the last year and a half,” he said.

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Quentin Bowen contracted Covid-19 in May but is still dealing with symptoms months later .

Bowen, a 41-year-old farmer living in Nebraska, said he scheduled his vaccine appointment but had to cancel twice because of work.

“I didn’t think I fit the profile of who Covid (could) attack. I was healthy; I was younger, and I was going to get (the vaccine). And I figured I’d been exposed to it before and never got it, so I thought I had time,” told CNN on Saturday.

On his way to the hospital, he said he told his friend to tell his kids he loves them, not knowing if he’ll return.

“I knew I wasn’t coming home that day. And I didn’t know if I’d come home ever. And I told him I said tell my kids good-bye, and that I loved them,” he said. “You don’t want to do that. You do not want to be in that situation. That’s one of the worst things I ever had to do.”

He added that he could not breathe properly on his own.

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” I woke up that morning. My oxygen was severely low. I’d been gasping for air at a point in time during the middle of the night. And the nurse told me to get to the emergency room. So at that point I didn’t know I had a pulmonary embolism, but I knew things weren’t good and that things could get out of hand.”

He said vaccination is in people’s hands, but once they get sick, they don’t have control over what could happen to them.

“Once you walk through the hospital door, it’s all out of your hands,” he said.

Matthew Hilk contributed to this report.