Over the last two weeks (ending April 10), all COVID metrics except fatalities plateaued with some slight increases.
According to the CDC’s data, hospitalizations over the last two weeks have increased by about 4% (32,357→33,919) and new admissions by 6% (5,078→5,369).
There is significant variation in the change in hosptializations around the country. Most states are still seeing declines, albeit more modestly than before. There are a few hotspots, New York and Michigan in particular, that are contributing to most of the increase.
Fatalities, however, continued to fall at even a faster pace. Over the last two weeks, the seven-day moving average for daily reported fatalities fell by 30% (1,011→712), however there was some flattening of the decline in the last several days. This is the lowest the seven-day moving average for fatalities has been since mid-October. I think we are beginning to see the effect of a large percentage of over-65s being vaccinated.
The IHME model has extended its projection to the end of July. Its best case now has fatalities gradually rising back to about 900 per day by the end of May and then declining to about 160 by the end of July. Its “worst case” scenario has fatalities back up to about 1,500 per day by mid-May and not declining below 1,000 until the end of July. The 538 ensemble of about 30 models shows that fatalities will continue to gradually decrease over the next four weeks.
The IHME model seems to me to becoming increasingly unhinged from reality. For example, it currently shows fatalities running at 867 which is 22% above the actual number. I think its parameters are giving far too much weight to the non-pharmacological interventions and too little to the effect of the vaccines.
I continue to be amazed at the success of the national vaccination campaign. The U.S. averaged administering over 3.1 million doses per day over the last two weeks. As of Saturday, almost 22% of the total US population and 28% of the over-18 population had been fully vaccinated. Almost 80% of the over-65 population had received at least one dose and 61% are now fully vaccinated. This is a stunning achievement, especially when you consider that the consensus this panel of “experts” assembled by the New York Times in June was that it would be another 12-18 months before we even had a vaccine.
The seven-day average for the CDC’s daily “new case” count bounced back from about 60,000 to 66,000. This is where it was about a month ago but had been as low as 55,000. The calculated positivity rate over the two weeks was 4.6%, which is about as low as it has ever been.
There are still a few doom merchants peddling the coming of a “fourth wave,” like this interview given by the new CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, where she warned of “impending doom” because there has been a small increase hospitalizations and “new cases.” However, increasingly, public health experts are predicting that the success of the vaccine program is probably foreclosing the possibility of a serious fourth wave. Even our local, ever-the-pessimist, Peter Hotez, who only a couple of months ago was worried that the US would see “staggering” fatalities this summer and fall, has done an about face and now thinks things will be “pretty damn close to normal by the summer.”
I think there is still a great deal of confusion among some about the distinction between the end of the COVID epidemic and eradicating COVID. I am convinced that the end of the epidemic, at least in the U.S., is at hand. But we may never eradicate COVID. That would take a childhood vaccination program implemented over decades. The polio vaccine was developed in the 1950s, yet there are still a handful of cases ever year somewhere in world. So, it will become an endemic, probably seasonal, disease. There will probably be an annual booster for it like the flu. But I predict that a year from now you will be able to watch the news and rarely hear the word “COVID” mentioned.