In areas where many Americans do not want to get jabbed, recent weeks have seen the COVID-19 Delta variant spread fast, while debates over freedoms continue.
As the virus kills more and overwhelms more hospitals, some experts expect the federal government to step in, if and when it can do so legally.
Hospitals in some southern states, including Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana, are "struggling with oxygen scarcity" after shortages of hospital beds and staff, and some risk having to use reserves or running out of oxygen soon, CNN reported Sunday.
Florida has seen a major increase in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, more than at any previous time. Hospitalizations have nearly tripled over the past month, federal data shows.
Statewide, 52 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated, but that number stands at less than 30 percent in hard-hit counties.
In Louisiana where new infections have been skyrocketing, the governor reinstated an indoor mask mandate on Aug. 2, effective until at least Sept. 1, as hospitals have been delaying elective surgeries and placing limits on visits.
Texas has also seen a surge -- overwhelmingly among those who declined the vaccine. Preliminary data released last month shows that 99.5 percent of people who died from the COVID-19 in Texas between Feb. 8 and July 14 were unvaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
VACCINES, MASKS POLITICIZED
With over 17,000 hospitalizations in the state, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has dug his heels in the sand and banned vaccine mandates. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has banned mask mandates in schools, although many schools are ignoring him.
A Florida judge Friday ruled on a lawsuit brought by parents who say DeSantis overstepped his authority when his administration said school districts couldn't order students to wear masks. DeSantis had warned that "there will be consequences" for districts that defied the ban.
In states including Texas and Florida, the vaccine, as well as other precautions such as mask wearing, have been politicized: conservatives do not want the government to force them to do anything, whereas liberals tend to back mask and vaccine mandates.
And the issue goes far deeper than that with complex reasons. Many people in the South and rural areas nationwide argue that constitutional freedoms far outweigh health concerns -- even in a pandemic. Polls also show those who decline the jab fear its possible side effects more than the virus itself, which have been fueled by unproven stories about the vaccine on social media.
At a recent rally in the state of Alabama, former U.S. President Donald Trump was booed after he urged the crowd to get vaccinated, but he did not push too hard, saying "You got your freedoms."
Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua that the unvaccinated include those who had COVID-19 once and survived, or who work in a medical environment like a hospital and have some knowledge.
"They will argue that the vaccine's development process was too rushed, and that they can handle their own health. These attitudes also fit well with not wanting to take orders ... and encouragement from many right-wing politicians and publicists who exploit these folks and successfully get them to send money," said Ramsay.
FEDERAL STEP-IN LIKELY
Some experts believe the federal government will step in, if and when it can do so legally. Though Washington can not simply impose a blanket vaccine mandate under U.S. law, it can levy mandates in certain industries and on federal property.
Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua that he believes the federal government will do more and more to make the vaccine a requirement where it can, such as for entering federal property or getting on an airplane.
The United States has been seeing more industries and local governments impose vaccine requirements in workplaces and public buildings, Galdieri said.
Nationwide, more people are getting jabbed. Since mid-July, the daily number of individuals receiving the first dose had increased from 260,000 to 450,000 by over 70 percent, which is a "critical progress," the White House said on Aug. 24.
The vaccination rate in Mississippi increased by 107 percent over the month ending Aug. 10, though the state has one of the country's top infection rates and hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, according to the local media outlet Mississippi Today.
As of Sunday, 52.3 percent of the U.S. population had been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.