National numbers, July 24

Has the BA.5 surge reached a plateau? Data from wastewater and other sources seem to suggest, maybe. Chart via Biobot Analytics.

In the past week (July 16 through 22), the U.S. reported about 880,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 130,000 new cases each day
  • 268 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 1% more new cases than last week (July 9-15)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 43,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 6,200 new admissions each day
  • 13.2 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 5% more new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 2,400 new COVID-19 deaths (0.7 for every 100,000 people)
  • 78% of new cases are caused by Omicron BA.5; 13% by BA.4 (as of July 16)
  • An average of 100,000 vaccinations per day (per Bloomberg)

Reported COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions seem to suggest that maybe the BA.5 surge is slowing down, at the national level. (And it is, definitively, the BA.5 surge, with almost 80% of new cases caused by this subvariant in the week ending July 16). According to CDC data, new cases only increased by 1% this week, compared to the week prior; last week, they increased by 17%.

New hospital admissions, similarly, increased by 5% this week, compared to 15% the week prior. And wastewater data from Biobot are showing a potential national plateau in the last week, with very slight increases or decreases in all four main regions of the country.

The CDC’s wastewater monitoring also shows that “most of the country is reporting moderate to high SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater.” About half of the 800 sites in the CDC network reported a decrease in coronavirus levels in the last two weeks, while 43% reported an increase.

These are all good signs. But I’m skeptical that we’re anywhere near the end of this current surge, for a few reasons. First, the continued underreporting of cases makes it difficult to evaluate case data, both nationally and in local settings. (For example, is NYC actually seeing a decline in transmission, or is the recent decline there a result of less PCR testing?) The CDC reported a national PCR test positivity of 17% last week, and it’s even higher in many states.

Second, the declines we’re seeing in hospital admissions and coronavirus levels in wastewater—both more reliable indicators than cases—are very slight. These patterns suggest that, while we may be near the peak of the BA.5 surge, it could take several weeks for it to actually abate. And by the time that happens, another new variant (maybe BA.2.75, maybe something else entirely) could likely come in and bump transmission again.

Finally, the U.S. as a whole is doing very little to manage this surge. I think this subheading from a recent POLITICO Pro article provides a good summary of the situation: “Strategies for managing 130,000 new daily Covid cases are largely the same as they were for managing 30,000 new daily cases four months ago.”

There’s been a slight uptick in second booster shots for Americans over age 50, according to CDC data. And a few, isolated localities are considering new mask mandates. But by and large, most people are heading into potential reinfection from BA.5 with limited protection. Stay safe out there.

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