After a significant post-Thanksgiving spike, COVID-19 transmission in the U.S. appears to be in a high plateau, according to trends in cases and wastewater. Official case counts stayed fairly steady this week compared to the week following the holiday, according to the CDC, while wastewater data from Biobot show coronavirus concentrations leveling out.
It’s now undeniable that Thanksgiving led to a jump in COVID-19 spread: officially-reported cases went up 50% this past week compared to the week of the holiday, following the trend that we first saw in wastewater data. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 also continue to go up.
If the U.S. wasn’t at the start of a COVID-19 surge before Thanksgiving, we’re certainly in one now. While official case counts have stagnated, wastewater surveillance indicates that the country is seeing about 1.5 times the coronavirus transmission that we had three weeks ago, according to data from Biobot.
Last week, the Omicron surge had clearly arrived; this week, it’s picking up steam. Nationwide, the U.S. reported well over one million new cases this week—more than a 40% increase from last week. 244,000 cases were reported on Thursday alone, and the daily new case average is now higher than at any point during the Delta surge.
The Omicron surge has arrived in the U.S. While national COVID-19 cases are not significantly up from last week to this week, last week’s bump in the numbers from delayed Thanksgiving reporting has been replaced with a true increase, thanks to the combined pressures of both Delta and Omicron.
Remember how, last week, I said that the dip in the CDC’s case counts was a vestige of Thanksgiving data delays—and we’d see more cases in the next week? Well, we’re seeing those cases now. Cases have increased by 37% from last week to this week, and they’ve increased by 55% in the last month.
Don’t be fooled by the apparent case decline in the CDC’s numbers: the U.S. is still in the midst of a new surge. The agency reported fewer cases last week due to Thanksgiving holiday delays, but we can expect cases to shoot up next week as delayed cases are added to the data.
The COVID Tracking Project noted that 20 states did not report COVID-19 data on December 25. The true impact of over a million people traveling will not be seen in the data for weeks to come. But while public health agencies may take a day off, hospitals never close. This week, more Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 than ever: the number peaked on December 24, at over 120,000. That’s double the highest national patient number we saw in the spring or summer.
Cases appear to be slowing nationwide, the Project’s weekly update reports—but the trend should be interpreted with caution, as many cases reported last week were delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday. And national counts obscure regional patterns: while the Midwest may have finally passed its peak of new cases, the Northeast, South, and West are all facing still-rising outbreaks. California alone reported 287,000 cases this week, and the state’s hospitals are already full.
In the month of November, one in 74 Americans was diagnosed with COVID-19. This terrible rise in cases has already put enormous strain on the nation’s healthcare system, and the outbreak is not slowing down. One in 131 Americans was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the first 12 days of December alone.