National numbers, February 19

COVID-19 hospitalization data from the CDC suggest that new hospital admissions haven’t really dipped below a high baseline since spring 2022.

In the past week (February 9 through 15), the U.S. officially reported about 260,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 37,000 new cases each day
  • 79 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 8% fewer new cases than last week (February 2-8)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 25,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 3,500 new admissions each day
  • 7.5 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 5% fewer new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 2,800 new COVID-19 deaths (400 per day)
  • 80% of new cases are caused by Omicron XBB.1.5; 16% by BQ.1 and BQ.1.1; 1% by CH.1.1 (as of February 18)
  • An average of 70,000 vaccinations per day

Nationally, official COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to trend slowly downward, suggesting that we’re in a high plateau of consistent virus spread. Reported cases have only declined by about 18% in the last month, while new hospital admissions have declined by 28%.

Wastewater surveillance data from Biobot also continue to indicate that COVID-19 spread has plateaued nationally, with slightly different trends at the regional level: a potential uptick in the Northeast, a trend back down in the Midwest, and slight declines in the West and South.

At the state level, some Midwest states continue to report increases in their COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. These states include: Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Utah, Nebraska, Michigan, and Missouri. (Though the wastewater decline could indicate that these trends in clinical case data may turn around soon.)

As I pointed out last week, the current COVID-19 plateau is unique from what the U.S. experienced around this time in 2022 and 2021. In both of those years, virus spread declined significantly after a winter surge, leading to relatively low levels in the spring. But this year, the decline has been shorter and has stopped earlier, leaving us with continued high COVID-19.

Biobot’s communications team pointed out on Twitter recently that the national average of coronavirus concentrations in wastewater is “about 60% higher than it was at this time in 2022” and “almost two times what it was at this time in 2021.”

Why isn’t transmission declining more? The XBB.1.5 could be playing a role here, as it spreads further across the country. This highly-contagious version of Omicron accounted for about 80% of new cases in the U.S. last week, according to the CDC’s estimates, and is now heavily dominant in almost every region of the country.

But I suspect a bigger culprit here is likely the complete lack of COVID-19 safety protocols right now. In spring 2021, first-round vaccines and continued non-pharmaceutical interventions played a big role in preventing disease, while in 2022, the U.S. had a lot of immunity from vaccinations and the recent, massive Omicron BA.1 surge, combined with some continuation of other measures. (Though that immunity quickly faded when BA.2 came on the scene.)

Now, we have less population immunity, less non-pharmaceutical interventions, and less overall awareness of the continued problems posed by COVID-19. This broad apathy towards the coronavirus hides the fact that over 400 people are still dying from this disease every day.

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