National numbers, May 21

According to wastewater data from Biobot, COVID-19 spread right now is lower than at this time last year, but higher than the prior two years.

In the past week (May 7 through 13), the U.S. reported about 9,200 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 1,300 new admissions each day
  • 2.8 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 5% fewer new admissions than last week (April 30-May 6)

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • A 4% lower concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater than last week (as of May 17, per Biobot’s dashboard)
  • 64% of new cases are caused by Omicron XBB.1.5; 13% by XBB.1.9; 14% by XBB.1.16 (as of May 13)
  • An average of 75,000 vaccinations per day

Nationwide, COVID-19 spread in the U.S. continues to be in a somewhat-middling plateau: lower than the massive amount of Omicron transmission we all got used to throughout late 2022, but still higher than the lulls between outbreaks we saw in prior years.

Biobot’s national wastewater surveillance offers a helpful visual for this comparison. As of May 20, the company calculates a national average of 221 viral copies per milliliter of sewage (a common unit for quantifying SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater), based on hundreds of sewage testing sites in its network.

In late May of last year, when early Omicron offshoots were spreading widely, this value was several times higher: 736 viral copies per milliliter. But around the same time in 2021 (when millions of Americans were getting their first vaccine shots) or 2020 (when the very first big surge had ended), wastewater concentrations were under 100 viral copies per milliliter.

It’s also important to note that wastewater concentrations have been fairly level for a couple of months now, both nationally and for all four major regions. High immunity across the population and a lack of divergent new variants have kept us from seeing a new surge since the 2022 winter holidays; but without widespread safety measures, I suspect we’re unlikely to see a drop in transmission below the current baseline.

Hospital admissions, now the CDC’s primary metric for tracking this disease, show a similar picture to the wastewater data. Numbers are low and ticking ever-so-slightly downward, but they’re not zero: about 1,300 people were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 each day in the week ending May 13.

Deaths with COVID-19 also remain at low yet significant numbers. While the CDC reports only 281 deaths in the last week, this information is now presented with a greater delay than during the federal public health emergency, as the agency had to switch from death reports received directly from states to death certificate data. For the week ending May 6, the CDC revised its number up from about 300 to 622 COVID-19 deaths.

There are no changes to variant estimates this week, as the CDC is now updating that data every other week rather than weekly. XBB.1.5 remains the dominant variant, with XBB.1.16 and XBB.1.19 slowly gaining ground.

Overall, it’s getting harder to identify detailed COVID-19 trends, but a lot of data still do remain available. I’ll keep providing updates as best I can.

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