Peter Walker is Head of Marketing & Growth at PublicRelay, a media analytics firm.
The pandemic is splitting in two. As COVID-19 recedes from the initial US epicenters in New York and New Jersey, cases continue to grow in the southern and western United States. For the first time since April 1, there are now more cases of COVID-19 in both the South and the West than there are in the Northeast.
In the last week, the data we compiled from states shows that hospitalizations have increased in eleven states—Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah—all in either the West or South regions, as defined by the US Census. This increase in hospitalizations strongly suggests that the regional increase in cases we’re seeing indicates worsening outbreaks, rather than an increase in testing.
Testing continues to grow, but at a rate that is keeping us well below testing targets. Nationally, the number of COVID-19 tests performed has increased by almost 15 percent this week and by 129 percent in the last month. Those increases are encouraging, but the United States has still only reached the Harvard Global Health Institute’s target range of 500-700K tests per day on two occasions since March.
Fewer than 5% of COVID-19 diagnostic tests came back positive this week, a rate that has fallen from a high of over 20% in mid-April, but is now only slowly decreasing. However, the rate of positivity—how many tests came back positive out of all tests performed—is on the rise again in Arizona, South Carolina, and Texas. (You can visually explore the data we've compiled for your state on COVIDCharts.tech.)
As we would expect, our data does not yet reflect any potential case spikes following the wave of protests in major US cities. It can take weeks before someone who has contracted COVID-19 feels sick enough to seek a test, and the many lags in state and local data reporting systems mean that we don’t expect to see new cases from transmissions in early June in our data for at least another week — or perhaps for several weeks longer. Minnesota, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have launched free testing programs open to people who attended “mass gatherings” in the past two weeks.
As The Atlantic's Ed Yong would say, our patchwork pandemic rolls on.