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I hate to break up the CCP Virus panic party that’s been held lately due to the surge of the Delta variant in recent weeks.

Actually, as known by RealityChek readers, I don’t hate to break it up, since I’ve been writing that it doesn’t portend the end of days, or anything close – much less a development serious enough to justify a return to economic and behavioral curbs in the United States. But even I was surprised to see how strongly the U.S. data support my confidence that Delta’s a wave in the most encouraging sense: It’s something that’s going to come down about as fast as it went up, both nation-wide and state-wide. Moreover, contrary to the almost universal claims, differences in vaccination rates don’t seem to have much to do with these trends.

These conclusions are based on data showing recent changes in hospitalization rates in states that have seem to have been hardest hit by the overall national increase in recorded virus cases since late June. As I’ve pointed out, case numbers are a deeply flawed measure of the virus’ impact on the nation, largely because so many infections are asymptomatic or very mild. Therefore, such victims typically don’t bother to report them. By the same token, however, their prevalence indicates that the pandemic’s dangers to Americans generally speaking are limited.

Hospitalization rates suffer major flaws, too – mainly because of sloppy definitional practices – but they’re better than case numbers. And what the numbers make clear is that in handful of states widely described as the Delta and overall new wave epicenters (see, e.g., here and here), the hospitalization curve is bending down big time. That is, the weekly numbers of new hospitalizations have slowed dramatically.

Here are the actual figures, with the percentage changes new hospitalizations over the last two weeks shown on the left side (and based on The New York Times‘ interactive CCP Virus tracker) and the percentage changes over the last week shown on the right side (and based on the Washington Post‘s tracker). I needed to use two sources here because I couldn’t find a single source that presented all this information in one place.

U.S.:                      +90 percent            +34 percent

Florida:                +111 percent            +17 percent

Texas:                  +102 percent            +19 percent

Lousiana:             +136 percent            +32 percent

Arkansas:               +45 percent              +4 percent

Missouri:                +27 percent              +5 percent

Mississippi:          +166 percent            +26 percent

In addition, as well known by now, the full vaccination rates in all of these states have lagged the national average of about 50 percent as of today.

Florida:      49.6 percent

Texas:        44.5 percent

Lousiana:   37.6 percent

Arkansas:   37.6 percent

Missouri:    42.1 percent

More evidence of the relatively modest role played by the vaccines in slowing hospitalization rates can be seen in the below table presenting, as above, the changes in weekly hospitalizations over the last two weeks and over the last week for the ten states with the highest full vaccination rates (shown in parentheses).

                                   over the last two weeks            over last week

US (50.1 percent):              +90 percent                       +34 percent

Vermont (67.9 percent):    +577 percent                     +260 percent

Mass. (64.4 percent):          +78 percent                       +25 percent

Maine (64.2 percent):         +29 percent                          -8 percent

Connect. (63.9 percent):     +90 percent                       +14 percent

R.I. (62.1 percent):               -29 percent                      +89 percent

Maryland (59.5 percent):     +77 percent                      +23 percent

N.J. (59.0 percent):              +60 percent                      +14 percent

N.H. (58.6 percent):             +45 percent                     +13 percent

Wash. (58.6 percent):           +60 percent                     +21 percent

N.M. (57.8 percent):            +89 percent                     +23 percent

The first observation to be made is that nation-wide, the increase in hospitalizations has slowed significantly – for which everyone should be thankful. The second point worth noting is that the two week changes for the high- and low-vax states don’t differ to any great extent, though both display significant variation. And the third point I’d emphasize is that the slowdowns mostly have been much faster in the low-vax states. So since we’re examining all these states during the same timeframes, it’s difficult to understand the insistence that vaccination is so vital to stopping the spread. (Incidentally, I’d ignore the Vermont data, since the absolute numbers are so small.)

The only other explanation I can think of is that the high-vax states tend to be states that are densely populated, whereas the low-vax states are much less so. But logically, that would seem to argue most strongly for more energetic vaccine efforts to be made where people are most crowded together, not for villifying the vaccination laggard states (especially when, as in the cases of Florida and Texas, they’re not trailing by that much).

And nothing apparent about the Delta variant so far changes what’s been the most sensible formula for contending with the CCP Virus since the pandemic’s first (understandably) panicky months of 2020:  Don’t treat it like the nation’s only health problem, much less its only problem; don’t ignore its wave-like dynamics or its highly differentiated health effects; therefore keep social and economic life as normal as possible, and focus protective efforts (including vaccines) on the highly vulnerable.