National numbers, July 31

New hospital admissions for COVID-19 are slowing nationwide, a potential sign of the subvariant surge peaking. Chart via the CDC, retrieved on July 31.

In the past week (July 23 through 29), 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
  • 269 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 1% fewer new cases than last week (July 16-22)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 44,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 6,300 new admissions each day
  • 13.5 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 2% more new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 2,500 new COVID-19 deaths (0.8 for every 100,000 people)
  • 82% of new cases are caused by Omicron BA.5; 13% by BA.4 (as of July 23)
  • An average of 100,000 vaccinations per day (per Bloomberg)

The U.S.’s Omicron BA.5 wave appears to be creeping past its plateau, according to several major indicators. Nationwide, 1% fewer new cases were reported this week compared to last week, the second week in a row of clear deceleration in this metric (with no major holidays interrupting reports).

New hospital admissions are also slowing down: the number of COVID-19 patients newly admitted to hospitals this week was only 2% higher than it was last week. It’s a smaller increase than any reported week-over-week in the last couple of months.

And the plateau is showing up in wastewater, too: data from Biobot Analytics show that the coronavirus concentration in America’s sewers dipped slightly last week in all four regions of the country. About 55% of sewersheds in the CDC’s wastewater surveillance network reported coronavirus decreases or very slight increases in the last week, compared to 45% reporting more significant increases.

To me, these metrics are suggesting that the Omicron subvariant wave may be, finally, running out of people to infect (or reinfect). But the decline is incredibly slow, likely because the U.S. has taken almost no measures to curb transmission.

The CDC’s community transmission guidance (also known as the old guidance, pre-February 2022 switch to “Community Levels”) suggests that Americans in 98% of counties should be masking indoors right now. But almost no state or local public health departments have actually brought back mask requirements. Even Los Angeles County failed to institute its planned indoor mask mandate, due to public pushback at the measure and cases trending down.

Meanwhile, testing indicators continue to suggest that reported case counts are a small fraction of the actual coronavirus infections happening across the country right now. The national PCR test positivity rate was 18% last week, according to the CDC; and almost every state reported a positivity rate over 10%, according to the July 28 Community Profile Report. (Experts consider test positivity over 10% to be evidence of high transmission and insufficient testing.)

As fewer PCR tests are conducted, the companies that process these tests are laying off workers and cutting their capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal. Even some companies that make at-home rapid tests are taking these measures, though rapid test capacity is still much higher than PCR testing capacity right now.

The safety measures that can prevent coronavirus transmission have not changed with BA.5. Individuals and small communities still have the ability to keep using masks, testing, gathering in outdoor spaces, etc., even as our institutions fail to keep us safe.

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