All of the COVID stats for Texas for the last two weeks (ending December 26) continued to track higher but at a relatively gradual pace. The second week saw a marked improvement but that may be illusory due to reporting delays associated with the Christmas holiday.
Total hospitalizations and ICU bed usage were up by 17% and 8%, respectively. Most of that increase occurred in the first few days of this two-week period. Since Thanksgiving, hospitalizations have certainly increased (~25%) but we have not seen the spike many feared. The decline at the end of the previous two-week period turned out to be a bit of a head fake. The hospitalizations again dipped in the last few days. We will have to see whether this is another feint or the much-anticipated peak.
Hospitalizations in west and north Texas continued decline at a steady clip. However, those declines were more than offset by gradual increases in the rest of the state. The most notable increase came in the DFW area. Houston’s numbers also continued to trend upward about on par with the rest of the state. In Houston, general beds filled by COVID patients are now at about two-thirds of the July surge level, with ICU beds at about half the previous high. Overall, a third of Texas reporting regions had declines in hospitalizations while two-thirds had increases.
The percentage of hospitalizations that result in transfers to the ICU has been trending down since early in the pandemic. That decline had stalled recently but has taken another significant leg down in the last month. This is probably a result of better clinical practices and new therapeutic drugs.
Average daily reported fatalities rose from 178 to 187, however, that is probably understated because only a handful of fatalities was reported the day after Christmas. The 30-day lagging case fatality rate, which had been running a bit higher in Texas than the national average, has plunged in the last month, standing at 1.67% as of Saturday. The percentage of hospitalizations and ICU bed occupancies resulting in fatalities has also ticked down. If these ratios hold, we are probably going to continue to see about 200 average daily fatalities until hospitalizations start tending down.
The State’s actual date of death reports now shows that the highest one-day total for the current surge is 183 on December 4. Interestingly, the highest day two weeks ago (November 17 at 162) only increased by 13 to 175. Perhaps this indicates that the State is doing a better job of timely entering death certificates into their reporting system.
Surprisingly, reported tests results increased over the last two weeks, notwithstanding the holiday. The number of daily reported positive test results held steady at just over 12,000 and the percentage of positive results ticked down slightly from 13.0% to 12.4%. The number of tests and the positivity rate continued to swing wildly from day to day. For example, on December 23, the State reported about 73,000 tests with a 31.8% positivity rate. On December 26, it reported approximately 117,000 tests with a 2.3% positivity rate. It is hard to have much faith in the testing data when you see these kinds of fluctuations.
The data is increasingly supporting the thesis that naturally acquired immunity is slowing the rate at which infections are spreading but that we have not yet reached the peak of the current surge. With the rollout of the vaccines, we should begin to see a significant improvement soon, especially on fatalities since the most vulnerable populations are being prioritized for the vaccine.