Third Wave – Fact or Fiction

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Don’t know how closely you pay attention to the numbers but we had some really big increases in newly reported positive results. So many new results that a whole bunch of places hit all time highs in terms of my ten day average. Kind of makes what I was doing harder to interpret so I waited until I got the most recent testing data. Well I also waited until today because weekends have football and I like football.

Again, I use the Covid tracking project for my numbers. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of what they provide. I did go to each state’s website and I can tell you that there are places where things don’t match. Anyway, I tried to look at testing data and trends in percentage of positive results plus any other useful information I could find on the website.

Is it real? I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to really see through all the noise. Best guess is that we have seen an increase in actual cases but that there are still just a few problem areas. In other places, the increase is so small as to not even really be meaningful. And we are still testing the heck of things.

Overall, for the week that ended on Saturday, there were 7.6 million tests recorded which is up again from last week and again represents a new high. We had 466,266 newly reported positive results which is actually the highest number of newly reported positives for any week this year. Must be that dreaded third wave.

Maybe but maybe not. We had 466,093 reported positives during the week of July 19th when the Sun Belt was going through its wave. At that point, the percentage of positive results was 8.1%. This last week is was 6.1%. That 6.1% figure is higher than the last two weeks and the highest since the week of August 9th. Some evidence that we’ve move out of the false positive noise zone but it still looks to be a slower rate of increase than we observed in the summer.

Since I liked doing this by location, I’ll stick with that. My first group is the Northeast and includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of people in this group but it accounted for 26% of the tests that were run while contributing only 9% of the positives.

In terms of grouping, I would put all of them but Pennsylvania in group 1 (best shape). Outside of Pennsylvania, the highest percentage of positive results was 3.4% in New Jersey. While there have been some small increases in the percentage of positive results, it is hard to be concerned if the actual rate is below 4%. Pennsylvania, I would put in group 3 or right in the middle. They are the only state in this group that needs to be watched.

Moving down the coast, we get to the next group with Delaware, DC, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. DC and Maryland had positive rates of 1.3% and 2.5% respectively and they would be in group 1. The other three are in group 2. A little higher on percentage of positive results (7.2% for Delaware, 5.9% for Virginia and 6.2% for North Carolina). But, in those three states, there is no real evidence of an increasing trend in positive results so they are flat at rates that are slightly higher than we might like. None of these are really worth worrying over.

Then we have the industrial Midwest states – the heart of the Rust Belt which includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The three in the best shape are Michigan (5.3%), Illinois (6.3%) and Ohio (5.5%) and I’d put them in group 2 for now. They’ve all come up from this summer but the rate of increase has been modest. The data on their websites is limited for some but I don’t see evidence of a big increase in hospitalizations which would be the sign of a problem. I’m sticking Indiana in group 3 since the big increase we saw two weeks ago wasn’t confirmed. Still up but not as much. Deaths have been climbing but that’s actually a lagging indicator and not a leading one. The state in the worst shape in Wisconsin but I’m going to put them in group 4 (second to the worst) because they did see percentage of positive results drop last week and with enough testing volume to make it appear real. Deaths have also jumped but, again, that has typically been a sign that the peak is reached. They could easily be put in the worst bin if I’m wrong. Wisconsin and Indiana are the ones to be most concerned about but we keep an eye on Illinois and Michigan.

We have a small group with West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee next. West Virginia sits at 4.3% and possibly trending down from early September. We’ll keep them in group 2 for now but there isn’t much to be concerned about. I’m going to put Kentucky and Tennessee in group 3. Both of them have been essentially flat for positive results since June or July but both have seen a small increase in deaths over the last month. We’ll stick them in the middle and see which way they go but neither really is a concern.

Now we come to the eastern part of the deep south which includes South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. They are higher than the Northeast in percentage of positive results but they all are trending down in percent positives and deaths. Georgia and South Carolina are the best of the bunch but I don’t see a reason to be concerned about any of them. Just an FYI, Alabama had some lab drop almost 3000 test results last week but they were results that dated back to the spring so it messed their numbers up a bit. I’ll put all four in group 2.

We go back north to the upper plains – Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Minnesota is the best with 6.4% positive results which is up a bit from September but it is right where they were last week so I’ll put them in group 2. Iowa goes into group 3 as things are increasing there but not yet at a rate that would suggest a problem. I’m going to put North Dakota and Nebraska in group 4. North Dakota might belong in group 1 because they’ve gone from 7.8% to 11.2% positive in three weeks but the death numbers may have already spiked so I don’t know if they will continue to climb. I could make a similar argument for Nebraska. In South Dakota, things have really jumped over the last four weeks so they belong in group 5. Of the five, the concern is with Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota but we also need to watch Iowa.

Coming down a bit we have Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. I’ll put Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri in group 3 because things seem to be flat there. Missouri needs to be watched – it was high and seems to have come down but I don’t know if that is a permanent thing. Kansas goes into group 4. Kansas only reports on certain days so it is hard to know exactly what is going on but they had a jump in positives and deaths and I don’t think they’ve peaked yet. So Kansas is of concern and Missouri needs to be watched.

We get to Texas and Louisiana which are both in group 2. Louisiana is at 4.5% positives but they’ve clearly been trending down since mid July. I’ll keep them here rather than group 1 until they’ve really hit some kind of bottom. Texas is a little higher at 8.9% but is also trending down. Until they hit a bottom, they’ll stay in group 2.

Now we go to the Rockies where I’ve lumped Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico into one group. Colorado is in group 2 and in the best shape even though they did hit a high in new positives last week. But that was driven by testing and with only 6% positives, they aren’t seeing a big move. New Mexico is in group 3. They have seen a small increase over the last couple of weeks but are still just at 7.5% positive. Put them on a watch list just to see if that gets worse.

The rest of the region isn’t as good. Utah goes into group 4 and might end up in group 5 if things conintue to progress. Over the last months, they’ve jumped from 9% to 15.6% positive so they is reason to be concerned. The other three all are in group 5 and also are ones to be concerned about. I don’t know about the testing regimes in those places but both Idaho and Wyoming were around 30% positive for last week.

In the desert, we have Nevada and Arizona which are in group 2. The positive percentage is high in both places but I’m not seeing large jumps in that or in hospitalizations. Both places were hit hard in July and August but aren’t close to those levels.

Just to lump the rest of them together, we have Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii. Washington (3.2%), California (3.4%) and Hawaii (2.3%) all belong in group 1 and don’t present any concerns. I put Oregon in group 2. Last week, they were at 6.4% positive but they’ve been close to that rate since the start of July. Really look to be flat at a fairly low level and not really a concern. Alaska did see an increase last week but they were still just at 7.5% positive. Because they are trending up but still at a low level, I put them in group 3 – right in the middle. Probably worth watching to make sure things don’t get worse.

That’s my take on things. The worst places to be are the far north. I don’t think the record high in cases reflects a true country wide wave. Some places are seeing a problem. Other places are just up slightly from where they were but are flooding the zone with tests leading them to find more positive results.

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