National numbers, November 6

Despite significant undercounting of COVID-19 cases, the CDC’s Community Transmission Levels (based on case rates and test positivity) are high enough to suggest the majority of the country should be masking. Data here are as of November 2.

In the past week (October 27 through November 2), the U.S. reported about 270,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 39,000 new cases each day
  • 83 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 5% more new cases than last week (October 20-26)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 23,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 3,300 new admissions each day
  • 7.0 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 1% fewer new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 2,500 new COVID-19 deaths (360 per day)
  • 35% of new cases are caused by Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1; 9% by BF.7;  4% by BA.2.75 and BA.2.75.2 (as of November 5)
  • An average of 400,000 vaccinations per day

Continuing a trend from the last few weeks, nationwide COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still at plateaus or trending very slightly downward. We aren’t clearly in a fall surge yet, but concerning newer Omicron subvariants are rising—along with other respiratory diseases.

National wastewater trends are also still suggesting plateaus or downturns in coronavirus transmission, according to Biobot’s dashboard. The Northeast’s wastewater saw a major drop in coronavirus concentration over the last couple of weeks while other regions are at high, but steady levels.

As always, it’s important to remember that official case data are significantly undercounted. True infections are likely around 20 times higher than reported cases, though even that factor is difficult to estimate at this point in the pandemic.

Despite the undercounting, the CDC’s Community Transmission Levels (based on case rates and test positivity) suggest that 75% of U.S. counties are experiencing “high” or “substantial” coronavirus spread. If we had more accurate data, that number would likely shoot up to 100%. In other words, even today’s seemingly-low and underestimated case numbers are still high compared to earlier periods of the pandemic.

Newer versions of the Omicron variant will likely drive continued COVID-19 spread this fall. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have emerged as the most competitive subvariants and are quickly taking over from their parent lineage, BA.5. These two subvariants caused about 35% of new cases in the U.S. in the week ending November 5, according to the CDC’s estimates, while BA.5 caused 39%.

The BQs are most prevalent in the Northeast, especially New York and New Jersey: these subvariants caused over 50% of new cases in the NY/NJ region last week, according to the CDC. These two states and Connecticut also had the highest per-capita COVID-19 hospitalization rate last week, per the HHS Community Profile Report.

As hospitals around the country brace for a winter COVID-19 surge, they’re already dealing with high transmission of the flu. Flu hospitalizations have not been as high as they are this season since 2010-2011, the CDC reports. Last week, Washington D.C., Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama reported influenza-like illness rates so high that the CDC needed a new map color to express it.

Even if COVID-19 isn’t (yet) surging in your community, this is a good time to stock up on high-quality masks and rapid tests, and plan holiday gatherings that will keep friends and family members safe. Your Local Epidemiologist has a helpful guide for the latter.

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