US Covid Cases “Trending Down”

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The “trending down” was a headline I saw online. When I launch a particular browser or go to check email, they fill the screen with news headlines and other things and this was one I saw. That’s as close as I get to mainstream news and I didn’t open the article so it might have contained better information. I think a lot of people may just stop with the headline.

“Trending down” is an interesting choice of words. If this was the stock market, it would be a “crash” and you’d have traders jumping out windows. But it is sadly typical of what we’ve been treated to during the pandemic. Bad news gets screaming headlines while good news gets soft peddled.

The truth is cases have been in a steep decline since peaking in mid January. For the week ending on February 20th, there were 686,089 newly reported cases which was down 39% from the previous week. This is the lowest number of newly reported cases since the last week of November. Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen cases drop by 43%, 44% and now 39% and we are now down 87% from the mid January peak. Seems a bit stronger than “trending down” but what do I know.

It will be interesting to see if we get the March/April bump we got last year but it is clear that seasonality has taken over and, barring some new variant, cases should continue to drop.

Last week, we had two states that saw an increase in cases. North Carolina was up 4% and Maine was up 358%. Yes, that is correct. They went from 6687 to 30670. There was a big dump on one day so I suspect there were some serious delays in reporting. I had been calling Maine an outlier for several weeks because they never saw the explosive growth in cases that the rest of the country did. Well, now they have but if it was just clearing a backlog of cases, they we should see things start to decline next week.

Rather than the state by state charts, I’ll just go with the one showing cases per million vs weekly change. Maine is not on the graph. There are also problems with Washington which sits at -100% because they’ve reported 0 cases for over a week and we know that isn’t true. Either they’ve quit or there is just some serious delay with reporting.

This is the same scale I used when I created this many weeks ago which is why they all are on the lower part of the graph. As I mentioned before, large percentage changes are not sustainable and the expectation is that states would start to move back towards the 0 line on the vertical axis as cases continued to fall and that is the cases with Maryland, New Jersey and a couple of New England states. Would expect things to continue to shift in that direction over the coming weeks.

In the graph below, I’ve restricted the y-axis to a maximum of 5000 cases per million. Besides Maine, that also takes Alaska and Idaho off the map but it makes it easier to spot individual states.

Ignoring Washington, the top ten is Nebraska, South Carolina, Ohio, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

And the bottom ten is Missouri, Vermont, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Carolina, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Montana, Idaho and Maine bringing up the rear. There is some clustering here with Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in a group and Idaho and Montana in another. Tennessee and Kentucky border each other and Tennessee also borders North Carolina and New Mexico.

I’m going to touch on something that might be controversial but I find it an interesting example of how people think. Had a Facebook friend post that he got COVID in January even though he had been vaxxed and boosted. Had mild symptoms and then went on about being so grateful that he had gotten the shots with the assumption that things would have turned out much worse if he didn’t.

But my problem with that is we don’t know what would have happened because we can’t observe the world where he didn’t get the shots. With a survival rate of 99%, it seems that the odds would have been in his favor no matter what he chose. Even serious cases are just a fraction of the total number of cases. And there is ample evidence that Omicron (assuming he had that based on the timing) was milder than other variants.

Plus, we know that efficacy of the vaccines fades over time. So is there really any reason to believe the initial shots he took last March played a part. I suppose it is possible but it just seemed odd to me that the shot didn’t keep him from getting COVID but he’s still thankful for the shot because “it could have been worse” if he didn’t. But we can’t know whether than is true so isn’t that really more like faith than science.

I’ll just leave with that thought.

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