National numbers, September 17

Wastewater data from Biobot suggest that coronavirus levels in the U.S. right now are similar to this time in 2021, during the Delta surge.

During the most recent week of data available (August 27-September 2), the U.S. reported about 18,900 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 2,700 new admissions each day
  • 5.7 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 9% more new admissions than the prior week (August 20-26)

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 14.4% of tests in the CDC’s surveillance network came back positive
  • A 10% lower concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater than last week (as of September 6, per Biobot’s dashboard)
  • 25% of new cases are caused by Omicron EG.5, 24% by XBB.1.6, 14% by FL.1.5.1 (as of September 16)

For the second week in a row, available data suggest that the current COVID-19 surge may be turning around, or at least heading for a plateau. But there’s still a lot of coronavirus going around—and this will likely remain true through the winter respiratory virus season.

Wastewater data from both Biobot Analytics and WastewaterSCAN suggest that coronavirus spread may be ticking down, after two months of increases. Biobot’s national trends show a 10% decline in SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater last week, after a 1% decline the week prior. WastewaterSCAN’s trends show a slow decline in the last week, following a slow increase over the summer.

This decline isn’t universal across the country: according to Biobot’s regional data, the South and Northeast are reporting clearer declines in coronavirus spread, while the West is in a plateau and the Midwest is in an increase. Sewersheds in Midwestern cities like South Bend, Indiana, Coralville, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska have reported major increases in SARS-CoV-2 levels in the last couple of weeks, per WastewaterSCAN.

Test positivity data from the CDC’s respiratory virus testing network also suggest that this summer’s COVID-19 surge may be leveling off. About 14.3% of COVID-19 tests in this CDC network came back positive in the week ending September 9, compared to 14.4% and 14.6% in the prior two weeks. (Note: this network includes a sample of testing labs across the country, but is less comprehensive than our testing data were before the federal health emergency’s end.)

Walgreens’ COVID-19 dashboard, which reports test positivity data from the pharmacy chain, shows the positivity rate leveling off as well. The share of Walgreens tests coming back positive went down slightly from 45% in late August to 40% this past week. Walgreens’ dashboard, like the wastewater data, shows that more people are testing positive in the Midwest and West regions.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to trend up, with the CDC reporting about 2,700 new patients a day during the week ending September 2. While this number may seem small compared to the overwhelmed hospitals we saw in past surges, it’s important to remember that CDC hospitalization data are both delayed and incomplete.

Our most recent data are from two weeks ago, and reporting standards for hospitals are more lenient now than they have been earlier in the pandemic—though the CDC does still collect data directly from facilities across the country.

Variant estimates, also from the CDC, suggest that EG.5 and XBB.1.6 are still the dominant lineages in the U.S. Each accounted for about one in four COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, while other versions of XBB caused the rest. BA.2.86 hasn’t appeared in the CDC’s prevalence estimates yet, but scientists have detected it in several states, suggesting it could be spreading under the radar.

Biobot’s wastewater data suggest that COVID-19 spread in the U.S. is similar now to this time in 2021, during the Delta surge. If 2023 continues to follow trends from the last two years, we could see transmission plateau in early fall, then rise again during the holiday season.  Any lull that we do experience may be a good time to stock up on masks, rapid tests, and other tools to protect yourself and your community.

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