Deaths caused by Covid in the United States are continuing to rise, with the 1,839 Americans succumbing to the virus every day being a 36 percent increase over the past two weeks. The number of people in the hospital testing positive for Covid is rising as well, increasing 61 percent over the past two weeks to an average of 155,943 people per day according to the New York Times.
Case rates in the U.S. may finally be starting to turn around, though many experts are beginning to say that daily case counts are no longer the most accurate metric to gauge the current state of the pandemic. Instead, experts want the focus to instead be placed on daily hospitalizations and deaths.
The current rate of Covid hospitalizations in the U.S. is the highest it has ever been during the pandemic. The figure is misleading, though. Official data does not differentiate people who are admitted to the hospital due to complications caused by Covid from people who arrive for treatment for another condition, and test positive while present. With the rapid circulation of the virus in recent weeks, and the high test positivity rate, thousands of people who have mild cases of the virus are being added into official hospitalization totals.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, whose state has been the hardest hit by the Omicron variant and is among the leaders in hospitalization rate, called for hospitals to more clearly delineate how many people are receiving hospital care for Covid complications – a potential shift in how numbers will be counted from here on out.
Meredith Allen (pictured), vice president for health security at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said that it would be wise for states to put resources into efforts that are not daily Covid case reporting
‘Beginning tomorrow, we’re going to be asking all hospitals to break out for us how many people are being hospitalized because of Covid symptoms [and] how many people … happen to be testing positive, just while they’re in there for other treatments,’ she said at the start of January.
When exactly these changes will go into effect, and how they will affect data, is unclear.
‘The goal of public health data is to provide information to people so they can take actions to keep themselves safer and healthier,’ said Meredith Allen, vice president for health security at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told Bangor Daily News.
‘We’re getting to a point where a daily case count isn’t giving people that information.’
Allen said that officials should instead focus their time, energy, and resources on other efforts.
‘That would allow public health agencies to focus on prevention efforts in high-risk populations such as long-term care facilities and work more closely with schools and vaccination clinics … rather than put the time and energy into producing that daily number,’ Allen said.
There is still some value to current case counts, though. It can show the overall levels of circulation of the virus, and also give everyone a general idea of how deadly the virus currently is. The Omicron variant, for example, is currently causing massive case increases around the country.
The U.S.’s daily case average eclipsed 800,000 for the first time over the weekend, with the height of the Omicron surge now reaching four times as many cases as the peak of the Delta wave. Disparities in case figures have not translated into more deaths, though, with the 1,839 deaths being recorded every day in America – the most since early October – is still far below the 3,200 deaths per day being averaged at the peak of the Delta surge in late September.
Cases also seem to be reaching a peak. Week-to-week case growth nationwide is slowing. New daily cases are only up seven percent over the past week, compared to a 75 percent increase the week before. New York and New Jersey were struck hard and fast by the variant last month, but cases in the neighboring states are now decreasing over the past two weeks – down 14 percent and 20 percent respectively.
What happens in the UK often proceeds the U.S. by a few weeks. Across the pond, cases are continuing to decline after a massive surge struck the nation last month. The country recorded 70,000 new cases on Sunday, and the daily case average has fallen to around the 100,000 mark – and will likely only fall further in the coming days.
The plummeting of new cases has continued in South Africa as well. The country which first detected the variant – and suffered its first major outbreak – is now recording less than 5,000 new Covid cases per day after reaching the heights of more than 23,000 per day only a few weeks ago.
Covid reporting in the U.S. is different than some other countries, as it is largely decentralized with each state using its own system and its own schedule to report cases. This has led to inconsistent numbers and totally unreliable figures at some points during the pandemic.
Florida, for example, abandoned regularly reporting cases early last year. Nebraska has shut down some of its public Covid reporting systems as well. When Gov Hochul took office in New York, she informed the public that her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, had failed to add around 12,000 deaths in the state to official numbers.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the lack of data available has hindered the agency’s response to Delta and Omicron.
‘We have decades of underinvestment in information systems,’ Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director from 2009 to 2017, told the Wall Street Journal.
Some have been hopeful that the rise of Omicron, a less deadly but more infectious variant, would lead to the end of the pandemic. If enough people get infected, and by virtue have natural immunity, then the virus could burn out and run out of people to infect. That could be what Americans are already seeing with the tapering off of cases in some parts of the country.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warns that it may be too early to see that light at the end of the tunnel, though.
‘It is an open question whether it will be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for,’ Fauci said during a video conference Monday.
Indiana currently leads the U.S. in daily deaths, holding the dubious honor for the past week. The Hoosier state is recording 1.3 deaths per every 100,000 residents – far outpacing every other U.S. state. Some hospitals are reporting that they are overwhelmed by the number of Covid patients coming in for treatment, and the state’s hospital association told the Indy Star that medical facilities are running above capacity.
‘The current state is probably the worst to second worst that I have ever seen it,’ Dr Mark Leutkemeyer, chief medical officer for Indiana University Health’s Adult Academic Health Center, said.
St Joseph County, a northwestern county that includes South Bend, has even opted to spend some of its Covid relief money on expanding morgue capacity in order to deal with the surging deaths.
Michigan has also long struggled with Covid, being among the national leaders in hospitalizations and deaths for months now. One out of every 100 Michiganders was hospitalized with Covid at some point in 2021. The state is now averaging 1.08 daily deaths per every 100,000 residents.
Seven U.S. states are recording more than one death per every 100,000 residents as of Monday morning, including Indiana and Michigan. New Mexico (1.1 deaths per every 100,000 residents), Maryland (1.08), Pennsylvania (1.06), Ohio (1.04) and New Jersey (1.02) make up the rest of the group.
While New Jersey has rejoined the club of states experiencing high death rates, cases are dropping in the Garden state, a signal this surge is coming to an end. Its neighbor, New York, and Maryland – which is experiencing a seven percent decline in daily cases – are the only three states in America where cases are going down.
The rate of case growth in state where cases are increasing is starting to slow, though. Last week, almost every state in America was recording a two-week doubling of cases. As of Monday morning, only 35 states have logged an increase of more than 100 percent in the past 14 days.
Some states that were once hotspots look like they could soon join the ranks of states posting decreasing cases. Georgia was once one of the hardest hit states in America by the recent Omicron surge, mainly fueled by an outbreak in the Atlanta area. The Peach state has seen a rapid decline in growth, though, with cases only up 34 percent over the past two weeks.
Neighboring Florida has quickly dropped off the leaderboard of states with the highest case growth, with the Sunshine state logging a 35 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks. Florida numbers can sometimes be misleading, though, due to the inconsistent nature of case reporting in the state.
A Covid surge in Chicago was primarily responsible for Illinois being among case growth leaders in December – even as cases were decreasing for a lot of the rest of the Midwest. The tapering off of cases in the state’s most populated city has made the situation seem more under control, with the Prairie state now logging a 61 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks – with the figure only expecting to fall further.
While states in the east start seeing cases taper off, the virus’s move westward is continuing. Alaska is still far and away the U.S. leader in case change, with the state experiencing a 610 percent increase in daily case over the past two weeks.
Texas (428 percent case increase over past two weeks), Utah (414 percent), Oregon (402 percent) and Montana (394 percent) also make up the national leaders.
Every mainland U.S. state west of the Mississippi river has recorded a doubling of cases over the past two weeks, with all but Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Minnesota – which are all along the river – recording a tripling of cases as well. This further highlights the massive westward movement of the virus.
States along the east coast are still leading the U.S. in hospitalization rate. New Jersey and New York are both logging 70 Covid hospitalizations per every 100,000 residents – tied with Delaware for the country’s lead. Pennsylvania (63 per every 100,000) and Maryland (61) make up the rest of the top five. These numbers are not totally reliable, though.