National numbers, July 17

More than 40% of COVID-19 tests conducted at Walgreens pharmacies in the last week came back positive. This is not a good indicator, to put it mildly.

In the past week (July 9 through 15), the U.S. reported about 870,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 120,000 new cases each day
  • 265 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 16% more new cases than last week (July 2-8)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 41,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 5,900 new admissions each day
  • 12.5 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 14% more new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 2,500 new COVID-19 deaths (0.8 for every 100,000 people)
  • 65% of new cases are caused by Omicron BA.5; 16% by BA.4 (as of July 9)
  • An average of 80,000 vaccinations per day (per Bloomberg)

As I suspected last week, the small dip in official COVID-19 case numbers was a result of the July 4 holiday, not an actual decline in transmission. This week, cases are up again nationwide, with the highest number reported since early February.

Of course, PCR testing capacity has declined substantially since February. And test positivity rates are high across the country: the CDC reported a nationwide rate of 17.5%, while the Walgreens COVID-19 Index (which compiles data from testing at Walgreens pharmacies) reports a rate of 42%. Such high positivity numbers indicate that our official case data are capturing a small fraction of cases.

And we have other indicators of the substantial COVID-19 spread happening right now. Biobot’s wastewater tracker reports increased transmission nationwide and in all four regions in the last two weeks. Over half of sewershed sites in the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System reported increases in the two weeks ending July 11—and for about one-third of sites, those increases were more than 100%.

New hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients went up by 14% last week, similarly to the highest levels reported since February. Reports of COVID-19 symptoms are also on the upswing, according to survey data collected by the Delphi Group at Carnegie Mellon University.

While some hospitalization metrics and deaths may be low at the moment, remember that these are lagging indicators: they go up a few weeks after cases. And cases are definitely going up right now, driven by the Omicron subvariant BA.5—which is now dominant in the country.

BA.5 and BA.4 together caused more than 80% of new COVID-19 cases in the week ending July 9, according to CDC estimates. BA.5 is pulling ahead, though, readily reinfecting people in a national climate that seems to have largely given up on safety measures.

But measures like masking, testing, and booster shots can still reduce transmission. I was heartened this week to see Los Angeles County preparing for a new indoor mask mandate in response to rising cases; other places should follow this lead.

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