Over the last two weeks (ending 1/16), the country’s epidemic metrics began to show more evidence that we are at or very close to the peak of the pandemic in the U.S.
Total hospitalizations and ICU bed usage jumped in the first few days of this two-week period but then did an about-face and began declining. Both finished up at 2% for the two weeks but have declined in 8 of the last 10 days. On Saturday, hospitalizations were at the lowest level since January 3. Ventilated patients fell over the last two weeks by 2%.
The improvement was mostly the result of recent hot stops leveling off, allowing the continued improvement in hospitalizations in states with earlier outbreaks to begin to drag the number down. We have seen head fakes on hospitalizations during this run-up but nothing as sustained as this.
The most recent IHME model is projecting a slight increase in hospitalizations over the balance of the month before peaking in late January. After that it is forecasting a steady decline with total hospitalizations down by 90% by May 1.
Average daily reported fatalities moved up significantly from 2,411 to 3,209. Some of this increase was due to fatalities in the previous two-week period being understated due to the holidays. Nonetheless, the rate of reported fatalities accelerated through the period, with an ever so slight hint of leveling off in the last few days.
The IHME model has pushed out peak fatalities to the end of this month and is projecting they will top out at approximately 3,600 per day then falling to about 200 per day by May 1.
The CDC’s vaccine website showed that through Friday, 31 million of the vaccine doses had been distributed to the States and various federal agencies. It also shows that only 12 million of those had actually been injected. However, there are substantial delays in the reporting coming back to the CDC, so I doubt that means much at this point. The most encouraging number from this site is that administered vaccines jumped by 1.1 million between Thursday and Friday. The data does not indicate when those doses were actually administered but if that pace keeps up, President-Elect Biden’s goal of one million vaccines administered per day will need to be revised upward.
Testing rebounded by 12% after the holidays. Positive tests were up by 19% and the ratio of tests coming back with a positive result ticked up from 11.5% to 12.3%. I suspect we have seen the high-water mark for testing.
The IHME model, which had been showing that infections peaked at the end of December, has moved peak infections back to this week. I found this interesting aggregation of COVID models. It has been created by 538, the political website known for aggregating political polls. The 538 aggregation includes 48 models from leading universities and other research organizations. While its forecast only goes out four weeks, it is showing that infections will start down in about three weeks. My guesstimate, using basic herd immunity principles, is that we reach the herd immunity threshold in late January or early February.
So, there is a lot of research that seems to be converging on the next 30 days or so as the peak of the epidemic in the United States. But if hospitalizations, which are a trailing indicator for infections, continue to trend down we may have already passed that point.