National numbers, October 29

Biobot Analytics resumed weekly updates to its COVID-19 wastewater dashboard this week.

During the most recent week of data available (October 15-21), the U.S. reported about 16,200 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 2,300 new admissions each day
  • 4.9 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 0% fewer new admissions than the prior week (October 8-14)

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 8.7% of tests in the CDC’s surveillance network came back positive
  • A 1% higher concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater than the prior week (as of October 25, per Biobot’s dashboard)
  • 25% of new cases are caused by Omicron HV.1, 22% by EG.5, 17% by XBB.1.6, 12% by FL.1.5.1 (as of October 28)

Our mid-fall COVID-19 lull continues in the U.S., with major metrics showing plateaus in disease spread nationally. A disruption in wastewater surveillance may make it harder to follow these trends in the coming weeks.

Biobot Analytics has resumed weekly updates to its COVID-19 dashboard as of this Friday. While the company is no longer testing about 400 sites in the CDC’s surveillance network due to a contract switch, its independent network still represents more than 100 counties across the U.S., according to Biobot’s Twitter.

Meanwhile, Biobot has filed a formal protest about the CDC contract change. According to reporting by POLITICO, the new contractor, Verily, cannot start testing at those 400 wastewater treatment sites while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluates Biobot’s appeal. The protest will extend the data gap that I described in my previous posts about this contract, possibly delaying surveillance for months as we head into the winter respiratory virus season.

With these gaps in mind, here’s what the limited wastewater surveillance data tell us. Biobot’s national dashboard shows declines in coronavirus spread from mid-September through mid-October, followed by a very slight (1%) increase in the week ending October 25. Regionally, spread is down in the Northeast and West Coast and up slightly in the South and Midwest.

WastewaterSCAN’s latest update shows similar trends: a decline nationally in the last month, and recent upticks in the Midwest, South, and possibly West as well. There’s not a clear pattern as to which states are seeing more increases right now; it’s more of a slight uptick across the board, as the WWSCAN team describes the trend.

Test positivity and hospitalization data from the CDC also suggest lulls. New hospitalizations for COVID-19 have not changed significantly in the last couple of weeks, staying at about 2,300 per day. The variant picture is still dominated by versions of XBB; more on this below.

As we get further into respiratory virus season, COVID-19 is likely to join forces with other common pathogens to put pressure on the healthcare system, just like we saw last year. But the tools needed to control those viruses’ spread are less available than ever, with masks, tests, vaccines, and surveillance data all harder to find.

So far, just 12 million people have received this year’s COVID-19 vaccines, per CDC estimates. POLITICO reports that CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen considers this number “on track” for the year, suggesting the agency is unlikely to put more resources into making the shots accessible.

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