National numbers, January 2

While COVID-19 case numbers in many parts of the country have shot past last winter’s records, hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively low. Chart via the New York Times, shared on Twitter by Benjamin Ryan.

In the past week (December 24 through 30), the U.S. reported about 2.2 million new cases, according to the CDC.* This amounts to:

  • An average of 316,000 new cases each day
  • 674 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 79% more new cases than last week (December 17-23)

Last week, America also saw:

  • 71,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals (22 for every 100,000 people)
  • 7,700 new COVID-19 deaths (2.4 for every 100,000 people)
  • 59% of new cases are Omicron-caused (as of December 25)
  • An average of 1.3 million vaccinations per day (including booster shots; per Bloomberg)

*This week’s update, like last week’s, is based on Thursday data (as of December 30) because the CDC has once again taken Friday through Sunday off.

It’s difficult to interpret COVID-19 data in the wake of any major holiday, as public health officials and testing sites alike take well-deserved time off. The weeks after Christmas are particularly tricky: the numbers are just starting to recover from one holiday when New Year’s hits, causing another round of delays. This year, the CDC took three-day weekends over both Christmas and New Year’s.

All of that said, we have enough data to say that cases are rising incredibly fast across the U.S. The country reported over 300,000 new cases a day this week—the highest seven-day average of the entire pandemic so far. Over 500,000 new cases were reported on Friday alone.

New York City continues to be a major Omicron hotspot. Last week, I wrote that one in every 100 New Yorkers had tested positive within a seven-day period, according to NYC data; this week, that number is one in 50. NYC’s positivity rate is over 25%, indicating that one in every four PCR tests conducted in the city is returning a positive result—but also indicating that the city is not testing enough to actually identify all cases. City data don’t include rapid at-home tests, contributing to the data gap here.

NYC’s case rate seems to be slowing down, suggesting that the city may soon follow South Africa in seeing an intense, yet short Omicron surge. But “growth is still growth,” as analyst Conor Kelly points out:

Meanwhile, plenty of other places in the U.S. are facing rapid growth from Omicron. In Florida, cases increased by almost 1,000% in the last two weeks of December—bringing the state from the lowest per-capita case rate in the country to the fourth-highest. Several other Southern states have also seen cases more than double in the last week: Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, Washington, and Maryland, among others.

There is some good news in this surge, though: while COVID-19 cases surge to record highs, hospitalizations remain much lower than they were at this point last year. The CDC currently reports about 67,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals nationwide, compared to a peak of over 120,000 in January 2021. Omicron hotspots like NYC and DC are similarly reporting hospitalization numbers that, while rising sharply, are not following cases as closely as they did last year. 

COVID-19 experts call this phenomenon “decoupling”: thanks to vaccinations, treatments, and (possibly) some inherent biological qualities of Omicron, hospitalization increases no longer directly follow case increases. Still, a smaller percentage of cases requiring hospitalization can still mean a lot of hospitalizations, when case numbers are as high as they are right now. And hospitals, already facing dire staffing shortages, were in crisis mode before Omicron hit.

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