I wasn’t planning on writing on CCP Virus-related issues today in part because I just posted on them on Saturday. But given today’s stock market rout (so far) and the recent instances of virus-related disruption of sports, education, and business due to fears about the highly contagious Omicron variant, it seems worthwhile to present the latest data on the virus’ ongoing impact on public health so far.
And the big takeaway so far is that despite Omicron’s arrival in the United States and the continuation of the Delta variant’s dominance of reported domestic virus cases, the damage to Americans’ health as best as can be measured has continued a persistent decline.
Although these conclusions need to be seen as very preliminary, they deserve attention for several reasons, especially considering the magnitude of the policy response so far. First, although Omicron was probably present in America well before the first case was confirmed on December 1, it’s now nearly three weeks after that apparent initial infection. So the new variant has been here for a while. Second, the also-highly infectious Delta variant still accounts for fully 97 percent of all reported cases across the country as of yesterday, although certain regions (like the New York City metropolitan area), have recorded a much greater Omicron presence.
Third, it’s getting to be winter throughout the United States. So any new variant that came state-side was inevitably going to pack quite an infection punch simply because respiratory viruses tend to spread faster in cold weather, and mainly because more of us spend more time in indoor spaces with less-than-super-ventilation.
So given all that, here’s what’s been happening since December 1 with the two indicators that tell us the most about the public health impact – hospitalizations and deaths (although, because of reporting methodology problems described here, neither is great):
First, new hospitalization admissions, as measured by daily changes in the seven-day averages (7DAs), which smooth out the random fluctuations that always pop up over shorter periods. And I’ve switched over to getting them straight from the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rather than taking them from the Washington Post‘s virus tracker – which also draws from the CDC, and remains very good, but which doesn’t seem to transfer hospitalization information from the agency consistently enough.
On December 1, when the first Omicron case was detected, the 7DA average of these admissions was rising at a five percent rate. By December 4, this rate of increase had hit 16 percent, and stayed in that neighborhood through the ninth. But it was back to the single digits three days later, and has fallen steadily since. As of last Friday, moreover, the 7DA had actually fallen by two percent. So if anything, it looks like the strain on hospitals, has been easing most recently overall in the nation.
The trends in the 7DAs in the daily death counts have been much more volatile, but considerable improvement can be seen here, too. (And these figures come from the Post tracker.)
As of December 1, the 7DA of these counts was down by nearly 22 percent. But it shot up to just over 42 percent on December 3, and stayed above 40 percent through the seventh.
But a dramatic drop-off began right afterwards. On December 8, the 7DA sank all the way down to abut 13.5 percent. The following day, 3.3 percent. And on the tenth, it declined by nearly seven percent. Moreover, this rate kept falling through the fourteenth – and by double-digits on two of those days.
On the fifteenth, it jumped back into positive territory (nearly 7.5 percent), but as of last Friday was back down to a little more than 4.5 percent. (For the record, we have numbers for Saturday, the eighteenth and yesterday, and they were about five and four percent, respectively, but reporting for weekends can be pretty spotty, so don’t make too much of them.)
In other words, American deaths associated with the CCP Virus are still taking place every single day – and in big numbers. On December 1, that day’s count was 2,678. Last Friday, it was 2,099. But that’s down nearly 22 percent. Measured in terms of the more reliable 7DA, they’re up from 1,048 to 1,291 – up more than 23 percent.
But what’s most important – and the most that can realistically be hoped for – is that the rate of increase slows. If these somewhat encouraging trends hold, let’s hope that the Biden administration and other public health authorities recognize that this is what the 7DA data have been showing both on the mortality and hospitalization fronts.