Government officials and health experts are leaning on the private sector to lead the U.S. out of a coronavirus surge caused by the highly infectious Delta variant.
The reason lies largely in the fact that the federal government won't issue a blanket mask or vaccine mandate, and some states are actively fighting mitigation measures.
"We don't have the ability to function as a country," said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and a top infectious disease expert.
We are facing a "formidable version of the virus, and we have no unity in the battle against it," he added.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said as much on MSNBC Tuesday, noting that while the federal government won't implement mandates, "under certain circumstances, mandates should be done" in the U.S.
New York and Washington are among states mandating government employees be fully vaccinated, while Florida's governor has threatened to withhold funding to schools and salaries of school officials that try to implement mask mandates.
On the flip side, the private sector has taken on the burden to implement mandates — whether it be mask mandates in buildings or vaccinations for employees.
Netflix (NFLX) and Citigroup (C) are among the latest to join the ranks, while Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH) is embroiled in a legal battle with Florida as it seeks to mandate passengers be fully vaccinated — which goes against Florida's vaccine passport ban.
"I think it's sad that it's come to that, we shouldn't need to do that," said Dr. Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a top vaccine expert.
[Read more: Vaccine mandates: Here are the companies requiring proof of inoculation from employees]
Offit told Yahoo Finance that in addition, vaccination certificates or vaccine passports — required in some European countries and, similarly in New York City — are another key tool the U.S. is not implementing.
It's why the steps Norwegian has taken against Florida could just be the first of many, as the private sector takes on the role of public health officiant, he said.
"That's the fight you're about to see," Offit said.
"It's hard to watch us fight in this because it's not a war just against the virus. In many ways, it's become a war against ourselves," he said.
Offit had particularly strong words for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his school mask moratorium. “The governor of Florida has served as a friend of SARS-CoV-2 virus," he sad. “For children less than 12 years of age, the only chance they have of avoiding this virus is to mask. That’s it.”
Florida, along with Arkansas and Louisiana, currently have the most new reported COVID-19 cases in the past week (based on population).
Though while the surge is mostly in the South, it could move north, Topol said.
Another concern is that the U.S. is unable to accurately track cases — as it is not monitoring how many breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals are among the newly reported cases.
Topol said the U.S. is "flying blind," setting the nation up for an even more difficult experience. And reports that the vaccine is 99.99% effective against breakthroughs leading to hospitalizations are misleading Americans into a false sense of security,
The vaccine trials didn't turn up similar results, so the reports are "a bad, disingenuous presentation of data," Topol said.
The one silver lining, he noted, is that other countries have seen a short burn time for Delta surges, so it could be a few more weeks before the rise in cases tapers.
"I still think within three to four weeks we may see things get better," Topol said. "Everywhere the Delta is, it makes an abrupt turn at some point because it burns through. It's so efficient, and it doesn't find any more hosts."
But until then, the full picture is out of view.
"We don't know what's going on. We just know that it's bad," Topol said.
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