This week in US COVID-19 data
COVID-19 statistics dominated the headlines once again this week, but this time was different as the President and many others connected to his administration contracted the virus. Unfortunately, the White House is far from the only place where case numbers are increasing. Across the country, infections rose for the fourth week in a row, with our 56 tracked states and territories reporting more than 312,000 new cases of COVID-19. The hospitalization figure ticked up as well, as case growth continued to lead to severe outcomes.
In 41 states, the number of people requiring hospitalization increased this week—only nine states saw declines in this crucial figure. More than 32,000 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States. Hospitalizations grew not only across the Midwest, but in states in every region of the country.
Nationwide, death figures continued their more than month-long decline, though 4,666 people lost their lives to the coronavirus this week. The regional differences are stark—more than half of all COVID-19 fatalities were in the South, with less than a tenth of deaths taking place in the Northeast.
There was some good news: On October 2, about 1.13 million tests for COVID-19 were conducted in the United States, the highest number ever recorded on a single day. Other than that banner day, though, testing throughout the week held level with the previous one. As we’ve explained before, many states are now combining antigen test results with PCR test results in their total counts. In the coming days we’ll publish an in-depth piece explaining what antigen tests do and how different states are—or are not—accounting for them.
Negative signals continue in the Midwest
The COVID-19 surge continued in the Midwest, with the Dakotas and Wisconsin seeing the highest numbers of new cases per capita. Wisconsin is now experiencing outcomes that mirror the beginning of what happened in some Sun Belt states in the late spring. There were more than 14,000 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the Badger state this week (up 11 percent), while hospitalizations grew by 7 percent.
Hospital capacity is of particular concern in Wisconsin. The state is facing critical shortages of medical staff, as many hospital workers have been infected with COVID-19. On Wednesday, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services reported that hospitals across the state are overwhelmed and in danger of reaching capacity, with 83 percent of hospital beds and 85 percent of ICU beds occupied.
In response, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced the opening of a 530-bed field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs. He also issued an order limiting indoor gatherings to 25 percent of occupancy limits. Evers’ existing statewide mask order, originally issued in July and extended in September, is already being challenged in court by conservative groups with the support of the Republican-controlled legislature. In the spring, the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Evers’ stay-at-home order.
The problems continue elsewhere in the upper Midwest. South Dakota saw more cases per million people on Oct 7 than any state has yet seen since the pandemic began. And, like Wisconsin, North Dakota is facing a hospital crisis, with some patients being turned away or sent to other states for care.
The coming winter
The surge of cases and hospitalizations in the Midwest continued a pattern we have seen for several weeks. But this week the region was not alone—the Northeast also saw a sharp upturn after multiple months of cases plateauing just under 50 per million people.
This case growth in these regions may be linked to the change in seasons. Many worry that COVID-19 will prove more difficult to handle during cold weather, thanks to a compounding flu season and inherent viral seasonality. If that’s the case, even places that have already seen significant viral activity may reignite. The COVID-19 focus has been on the White House this past week, but the virus isn’t done with the rest of us yet.
On a final note, the COVID Tracking Project just published the second in our three-part series explaining the intricacies of a metric that’s commonly used to assess the progression of the pandemic: test positivity. This ratio is often cited to justify imposing or relaxing public health measures and opening or closing businesses and schools (read the first part of our series here). We urge readers to look at these rates carefully, especially when using them to compare disparate geographies, as the methods used to calculate percent positivity vary in critical ways.
More Weekly Updates
Case numbers are dropping rapidly, and deaths are down 20 percent from last week. Vaccines are finally showing up in the data with dramatic declines in deaths from long-term-care facilities. We urge caution about interpreting wobbles in the data in the next week or two, given storm disruptions affecting Texas and elsewhere.
Another week of good news: Cases and hospitalizations continue to drop nationally, and deaths are down for the second week in a row. We’re concerned about ambiguous indicators in the Northeast, and about testing declines.
Cases and hospitalizations continue to drop, and now COVID-19 deaths finally appear to be declining.