The pandemic is entering a "tornado" phase in the U.S.

Although we’ve previously described the most devastating periods as “waves” and “surges,” the more proper metaphor now is a tornado: Some communities won’t see the storm, others will be well fortified against disaster, and the most at-risk places will be crushed. The virus has never hit all places equally, but the remarkable protection of the vaccines, combined with the new attributes of the variants, has created a situation where the pandemic will disappear, but only in some places. The pandemic is or will soon be over for a lot of people in well-resourced, heavily vaccinated communities. In places where vaccination rates are low and risk remains high, more people will join the 550,000 who have already died.

Cases are rising sharply in several different cities, but the patterns look different. In Michigan, some smaller, whiter counties have vaccination rates twice as high as in Detroit, where rising cases are concentrated and the vaccination rate among the city’s mostly Black population is still low. According to national survey data, in line with political divergences over masks and social distancing, vaccine hesitancy is now highest among Republicans and white evangelical Christians. In Philadelphia, zip codes that are relatively whiter but have lower educational attainment have experienced the most case growth over the past 30 days. Baltimore’s outbreak is growing too, but the data are messy.

In these places, and in other hot spots around the country, the rise in cases is an acute crisis that public-health officials should battle with all the available tools, as my colleague Zeynep Tufekci noted this week.