How to Think About Covid Data Right Now


January 2021 peak




January 2021 peak



Note: All numbers are 7-day rolling averages as of January 6th; Source: The New York Times database of reports from state and local health agencies.

The number of coronavirus cases has reached record levels in the United States and continues to rise. Hospitalizations have passed the peak of the delta wave. Mortality is just starting to rise.

The overall pattern is familiar, but a new perspective on how to interpret these metrics is necessary as a faster but less severe variable across the country. Here’s how to think about the data in the coming days and weeks.

The spikes on the case show that Omicron still has room to grow

In just days, the number of coronavirus cases broke previous records in the United States, where the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly almost everywhere, including communities with high vaccination rates. All but 13 states have seen record cases in the past week.

Average daily cases per 100,000 people

Case history in the past week

While the numbers of these cases are staggering, experts say they are not as alarming as they were a few months or a year ago. Rather, it should serve as a warning to the country, to modify behaviors and policies to reduce infection and protect the most vulnerable.

“Circumstances have changed and we must adapt,” said Dr. Shamma Kash Goldwasser, senior technical advisor at Resolve to Save Lives, a global health organization. “We have a less dangerous type, plus many of the vaccines have been vaccinated, but the evidence suggests that the vaccines are not as good at preventing Omicron infection as they were against Delta.”

Although the number of cases is rising in many places, it is certainly not counting at the moment, as many Omicron infections are asymptomatic or mild and people may not know the test. A lack of testing also limits access, and experts say the majority of common home test results are not reported to public health departments.

A sharp rise in cases in many states could be followed by sharp declines, as observed in South Africa, but experts warn that the sheer volume of cases could lead to large numbers of seriously ill people, even from an alternative that generally gives people less. severe illness;

said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Regional Epidemiologists.

With so many risks of infection right now, public health experts say monitoring the number of cases and trends can encourage people to make decisions to protect themselves from infection and avoid infecting those around them, such as getting a booster dose or wearing a mask indoors.

“We are still in a position that needs caution,” said Ms Hamilton. “We’ve been with Omicron for a month and there’s still a lot we don’t know.”

Hospital treatment reveals a system under stress



150,000 hospital admissions



Because the Omicron variant appears to cause less serious illness, hospitalization numbers may tell us less about illness and more about the strain on the health care system, which has consequences for everyone.

Hospitalizations have not yet seen the same explosive growth as cases, but this measure tends to lag the number of cases, and it may be too early to gauge the full effect of Omicron. What is clear is that the number of people hospitalized with Covid nationwide has already passed the peak of the Delta-led wave and is still rising sharply.

Hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care centers and doctors’ offices are overburdened and understaffed across the country. Hospitals in some areas are already closing elective surgeries and must treat critical care patients in emergency rooms.

And in parts of the country like the Midwest, hospitals may be in a more dangerous situation — they were already under pressure, not yet recovering from a delta wave before diseases led by Omicron started to rise.

New York

Hospitalizations were fewer and increased.


80 hospitalizations per 100,000




Hospitalizations were already high and have increased since then.

Hospitalization numbers are not without flaws. Jason L. Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, who tracks Covid data.

These ‘symptomatic patients’ may be more prevalent at the moment because Omicron is highly transmissible. Some hospitals report that these patients may make up as much as half of their hospital admissions.

Dr. Salmi noted that infection with MERS-CoV can exacerbate the underlying disease for symptomatic patients; pose a danger to staff and other patients; And contribute to the overall pressure on the medical centers.

National hospitalization data in particular does not include recent measures of severe illness, such as the number of people on ventilators or the length of their stay. (Federal data tracks some of that, but it’s about two months behind.)

“The lack of this detail about hospitalization in the available data only muddies the waters as we try to understand the effect of Omicron,” said Dr. Salmi.

Public health experts suggest monitoring Covid patients in intensive care as well as the ability of the intensive care unit to better gauge the impact of Covid on critical illnesses. One in four US hospitals with intensive care units recently reported that at least 95 percent of critical care beds were full.

The direction of death is not yet clear



3000 average daily deaths



Report delays

There is hope that vaccination coverage, improved medical treatment and the milder characteristics of the Omicron variant will mean that fewer infections end in death. But the unprecedented number of cases could lead to high levels of deaths.

“Are we going to see an increase in deaths? Yes, we are,” Ms. Hamilton of the State Council and regional epidemiologists said. “And they will go up if cases continue to increase in this way.”

Experience throughout the pandemic shows that it takes at least three weeks after an increase in cases to see a resultant increase in deaths, which may explain why the number of deaths has risen slightly so far.

Trends in deaths lag cases and hospitalizations by weeks due to the time it takes people to become seriously ill and the time required to complete and maintain death records. This lag varies by state and often becomes longer at times when the number of deaths is highest, or when a rise in cases overwhelms the public health system, as is the case now.

Already, there are some worrying early signs of rising death numbers in some of the northeastern states that were first exposed to Omicron, including New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Deaths can generally be expected by looking at hospital admissions and a three-week countdown, which indicates that deaths will roughly double in the next three weeks, said Dr. David Doody, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. But he added that it was still possible that deaths did not rise as sharply as cases and hospitalizations did.

“This link between hospitalization and mortality is now being broken, as more people are hospitalized with milder disease,” said Dr. Doody. “So I would actually expect the deaths to not quite reach that level.”

“Anyway, in the midst of the big increases, we can’t wait three weeks for the data in order to act appropriately now,” he said.

Corona virus tracking

Leave a Comment