It may not seem like it if you work in an emergency room in Texas right now, but the COVID stats for Texas for the last two weeks (ending January 23), show some promising signs that infections have peaked in Texas.
For the first time since September, hospitalizations and ICU bed usage fell over the last two weeks. Total hospitalizations continued to climb for the first few days, before peaking on January 12. Since then, total hospitalizations have fallen by nearly a thousand. ICU beds kept rising until just a few days ago but have fallen by over 200 in just the last three days. Every time this kind of distinct peak has been made in the past it has been followed by a rapid decline. Let’s hope that holds true this time as well.
Fifteen of Texas’ twenty-two reporting regions saw decreases. Unfortunately, Houston was not among them. But even though the Houston region was up for the last two weeks, there were some decreases in just the last few days and Houston is still well below its previous peak in July.
San Antonio had the largest increase. El Paso and the Valley also had what I’m sure was for them very unwelcome increases. Keep them in your prayers especially. They have already had more than their share.
The most depressing metric was that fatalities rose again. Average daily reported fatalities jumped from 234 to 316. Unfortunately, it is probably going to be several more weeks before we see much improvement in the reported fatalities because of the delays in the reporting systems. Currently, the highest daily tally shown on the State’s actual date of death record was on January 6 at 268. That is only slightly lower than the previous peak in July (278). More consequentially, this surge has lasted much longer than the surge over the summer and, therefore, is making a much larger cumulative impact on total fatalities.
As bad as the fatality numbers are running, Texas continues to run below the national per capita fatality rate (117 vs. 123). It currently ranks 28th lowest among all the states and 8th lowest among the ten largest states. Only California and North Carolina among the large states have a lower per capita rate.
I will be updating the excess death analysis in a couple more weeks when most of the death certificates will have been filed. Right now, I am guessing that Texas is going to have about 20% more fatalities in 2020 than it did in 2019.
Texas continues to be doing a reasonably good job on vaccinations, at least, compared to other states. As of January 22, Texas had administered over 3 million doses. Only California has done more. On a per capita basis, Texas is about midway.
One of the problems Texas has faced is that HHS has consistently been sending Texas less than its share of the available vaccines based on population. Based on the CDC January 22 numbers, Texas has been shorted about 350,000 doses.
Texas’ testing data has stabilized to some degree. It, too, is pointing to a lower level of infection. The number of positive test results increased over the two-week period slightly, but the seven-day average peaked on January 9 and has fallen 25% since then. The calculated positivity rate fell from 20% to 15% over the last two weeks. The State’s positivity analysis based on the date of collection of the sample peaked just after the first of the year at 21% and has since fallen to just under 17%.
Despite the gut-wrenching fatality numbers, all indications are that Texas passed peak infections sometime this month and we are likely to see fairly rapid declines over the next two months.
The widely followed IHME model is projecting that Texas reached peak infections on January 21. That is about three weeks later than their last run and is very close to my guesstimate based on basic herd immunity principles. The IHME model continues to project that infections will fall by 95% by April 1. It is showing that hospitalizations and fatalities will be relatively flat for another 2-3 weeks and then will rapidly decline.
Another confirming indication that we have reached the peak is an on-going study conducted by the City of Houston with Baylor College of Medicine testing sewer samples for COVID. Recently, that testing has shown a significant drop, leading Baylor’s CEO, Paul Klotman, to conclude that “in 7 to 10 days, I think we’re going to see a pretty dramatic drop in the number of new cases.”
I wouldn’t start planning your mask burning parties just yet, but the day may come faster than many think.