National numbers, May 7

New hospital admission for COVID-19 continue to drop, though they are at higher levels than we’ve seen in past lulls. Chart from the CDC dashboard.

In the past week (April 27 through May 3), the U.S. officially reported about 77,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 11,000 new cases each day
  • 14% fewer new cases than last week (April 20-26)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 10,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 1,400 new admissions each day
  • 2.9 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 10% fewer new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 1,100 new COVID-19 deaths (150 per day)
  • 67% of new cases are caused by Omicron XBB.1.5; 13% by XBB.1.9; 13% by XBB.1.16 (as of May 6)
  • An average of 60,000 vaccinations per day

The national COVID-19 plateau persists. Cases, new hospitalizations, and wastewater surveillance all indicate slight declines (but persistent disease spread) across the country. New variants are on the rise, but have yet to noticeably change these trends.

New COVID-19 cases declined by about 14% last week compared to the week prior, while hospital admissions declined by 10%. While the case numbers might seem low (just 11,000 reported each day), they are a drastic undercount of true infections, as we can see by comparing total new cases to new hospitalizations.

This week, the CDC’s reported cases were about eight times the number of new hospital admissions reported by the agency. While this time last year, new cases were 30 times new hospital admissions. In other words, as case reporting gets less accurate, we are still tracking cases with severe sypmtoms (i.e. those that require hospitalization), but missing many of the mild or asymptomatic cases—that could still lead to detrimental outcomes, like Long COVID.

Wastewater surveillance—which provides population-level data regardless of how many people are getting PCR tests or otherwise seeking healthcare—suggests that the U.S. has been at an overall plateau of COVID-19 spread, but a higher one than we’ve experienced in past lulls (such as in spring 2021, when people were receiving their first vaccine doses).

Biobot’s national wastewater data shows fairly steady transmission for the last month. The company’s regional data shows a similar picture; the West Coast has slightly higher coronavirus levels than the other three major regions, but is on a decline. A few counties in California and other West states have seen increases recently, but it’s not a sustained pattern across the board.

Newer versions of the Omicron variant are competing with XBB.1.5, but the transition is happening slowly. XBB.1.5 still caused about two-thirds of new cases in the U.S. last week, according to CDC estimates, while XBB.1.16 and XBB.1.9 both caused about 13% of new cases.

It’s currently hard to say if the country will face a real surge from XBB.1.16 and XBB.1.9. XBB.1.16 has wreaked some havoc internationally, but it may be similar enough to the variants now circulating in the U.S. that it won’t make a huge dent. Or, if we do see an increase in cases, it could be more like a “mini-wave” of largely-mild infections than a surge that really strains the healthcare system.

This “mini-wave” idea has been covered by a few news outlets recently, including Nature and the Atlantic. It’s certainly promising that the U.S. hasn’t had a real surge since the winter holidays, now almost six months ago—but we have to remember that any new cases, no matter how low the numbers are, can lead to potential severe symptoms and long-term illness. I, for one, am not letting up my guard on safety.

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