COVID Glass Half Empty or Half Full

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Since cases are heating up in places, I think we go back to weekly updates for a bit. Again, the numbers can be spun to make the situation appear bad or good, it all depends on your perspective. The bottom line is we continue to see an uptrend that is mostly centered in the South. Compared to last year at this time, cases are way down in most places.

I tend to choose to look at the half full side and, while the numbers are up, there are still in historically low ranges (with one or two exceptions). Hospitalizations are up but only slightly and deaths continue to drop although that is typically a lagging indicator so we may see small increases in a few weeks.

For the week ending on July 10th, there were 4.1 million new tests recorded which is essentially unchanged from last week. The number of newly reported positives jumped from 98,042 to 137,935 which is a 41% increase and the third week in a row of increases. On the bad news side, the 41% jump is the largest since the week ending on June 27, 2000 which was as the Sun Belt spike last year was getting going. On the good news side, that number of new cases is still lower than every week in May of this year.

Last year, at this time, we had 388,804 newly reported positives and the wave would peak in two weeks. If we line up the percentage increase assuming the wave is a little behind, then we had 255,686 newly reported positives for the week ending on June 27, 2000. By any measure, we are still running behind where we were last year.

For the week, 3.4% of the reported results were positive which is also up for the third week in a row. But, on the good news side, the 3.4% is lower than any week last year (after COVID hit in March). During the summer wave last year, we peaked at 7.6% positives and were running in the 6-7% range at this time last year.

Last week, newly reported cases increased in just over half of the states. The biggest increases were in Florida, Missouri, Texas, New York, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. Other Sun Belt type states showing increases included North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona. Virginia and New Mexico also make the list if you want to count them. Again, the increases are primarily in the South and Southwest.

A quick run through the graphs starting in the Northeast. If you look very closely, you can see New York on top of the stack but the increase there was small relative to the population so we still basically see all the states still at lows.

Moving down a bit, it is hard to pick out North Carolina and Virginia but they are at the top of the stack at the end. But they are all below where they were last year so the increases in North Carolina and Virginia really haven’t risen to any significant levels yet.

The Midwest is a similar story. There are no signs of large increases here and all the states are at lows and below where they were last year at this time.

Tennessee is on this graph and that might be the first place where the increase was obvious. I do continue to have to caution about drawing conclusions on a single data point so we need to see where it goes. It is also true to say that they are well below where they were last year at this time.

Into the South, where we do see upturns in a lot of places with Florida leading the way. Even with Florida, the rate of increase is much slower than we saw last year and Florida has just now gotten back to levels they were at in May of this year. No place is close to where they were last year at this time. While it is possible the wave is starting later, it still looks almost certain that we aren’t going to see anything close to what we saw last summer in this region.

In the upper Midwest, cases remain low and trends remain flat. All states are below where they were at this time last year.

Now we get to the two states of interest – Missouri and Arkansas. Louisiana is also trending up and that shows up on the graph as well but they are well below levels they saw last year. Missouri did not have much of a summer wave last year and they’ve clearly topped that this year. Arkansas is close as well. Texas is not anywhere close to levels they were at last year at this time. But the ones to watch remain Arkansas and Missouri where cases have gone up four to five weeks in a row. If the trends from last year hold, they should be nearing a peak. No real way to make good news out of those two.

In the Rockies, Wyoming is strangely elevated above the rest but the trend is flat. The other states remain at very low levels and below where they were last year at this time.

While Arizona did see an increase and you can pick it out on the graph, the rate is very small and they are far below where they were last year at this time. Nevada had one week a couple of weeks ago with an increase but have been flat since then which is why you can’t overreact to a single week. California has not had any real increase. Unlike the Southeast, we don’t see a real return of the summer wave here.

Finally, we get to the Pacific Northwest, where the trends remain flat to down. No issues here.

As I said, it all depends on how you look at things. You could focus on the big increase and get freaked out. Or you could look relative to past data and not be that concerned. To me, we have two states (Missouri and Arkansas) that are problems. Florida may or may not join them but the rate of increases we saw in other places doesn’t suggest a problem right now.

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