COVID-19 DIARIES, WEEK OF 23 OCTOBER 2020

The Coming Storm

It is now clear that a third coronavirus surge is well under way. California has fared relatively well so far, but just as the US lagged Europe by a couple of weeks, there are now signs the virus will hit harder here at home, and soon, just as colder weather and the flu season begin.

This week’s statistics are almost unrelievedly grim. Virtually every metric — new cases, positivity, hospitalizations, ICU patients, and deaths — is rising fast, both here in California and throughout the nation.

About the only positive news is that California hospitalizations fell by 1%, but consider also that the previous week’s decrease was 5%. At the same time, COVID-19 ICU patients rose 6% in California this past week, the first increase after 12 straight weeks of declines.

Ventura County has been in pretty good shape, but that may be changing. Computational biologist Mike Bass tracks the state data (and provides daily updates in his Twitter feed), looking at long- and short-term trends.

Ventura County this week edged closer back toward the state’s purple tier. This chart from computational biologist Mike Bass evaluates a 7-day rolling average of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people — a key metric used by the state in assigning tier levels. After an overall downward trend following the summer surge, cases are again on the rise.

Using one of the state’s grading criteria, new cases per 100,000 population, Mike’s analysis of the data shows that this week Ventura County began edging back up toward the purple (most severe) tier. This is based on rolling 7-day averages, the same measurement the state uses.

Moreover, Mike’s analysis shows the past couple of days have seen new cases in Ventura County and statewide significantly higher than rolling 14-day averages.

New cases rose significantly above the 14-day rolling trend in Ventura County for the past couple of days, as this analysis by computational biologist Mike Bass shows. It’s too early to call this a trend, but coupled with increases statewide and nationally it is a cause for concern.
California’s new cases also rose above the 14-day rolling trend, as this analysis by computational biologist Mike Bass shows. As with Ventura County, it’s too early to say if this trend will continue.

By itself, this isn’t necessarily cause for concern. We have seen many instances of 2-, 3-, and 4-day streaks before, both above and below the rolling average. In concert with worsening conditions elsewhere, however, it is a cause for concern.

About the only positive coronavirus new this week is that hospitalizations in California by 1%. But that’s a much slower decline than last week, and masks an increase in ICU patients. Also, this week’s deaths, compared with week-ago totals, rose for the first time since mid-September.

And we’re still in comparatively good shape here in California. Around the rest of the country, the situation is far more dire.

All the key US coronavirus metrics rose this week. On Friday, the nation set a single-day record with more than 83,000 new cases. Hospitalizations, ICU patients, and deaths also rose.

On Friday, public-health officials reported more than 83,000 new cases, a single-day record. That record comes with an asterisk, since several states included historic (greater than a week old) cases in that report. But it’s only a small asterisk: Saturday’s number was also nearly 83,000 cases, and that total does not include historic reporting.

The number of cases is likely to accelerate faster than before. As explained by epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant, because we’re beginning this surge from a higher base (with a larger number of cases) than we had at the beginning of the first or second surges, the number of cases is likely to accumulate faster.

Some dismissed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s late June warning of 100,000 new cases per day. With colder weather and flu season just beginning, that warning now seems much more plausible.

Coronavirus cases, measured per capita, are even more widespread around the nation than they were last week, and more serious. The Midwest and Great Plains states are the hardest hit, but more states moved into the most infectious tier this week. And New Hampshire’s number is not 0; it just didn’t report on Friday.

The virus is widely distributed around the country. Although infections are still highest in Midwest and Great Plains states, more states this week moved into higher-infection tiers. The Dakotas remain areas of particular concern, but states in other areas — Alabama and Rhode Island, for example — also saw infections rise sharply this week.

All the new cases are putting pressure on hospitals around the country, especially in rural areas. In Texas, which saw the largest single-state increase in cases this week, Gov. Greg Abbott — who for months downplayed the virus’ risk — now has requested the use of a military hospital to aid civilian hospitals in the El Paso area.

Even if a vaccine appeared tomorrow, and was shown (and accepted) to be 100% effective and safe, we’re still facing a rough fall and winter. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA administrator from 2017–19, expects to see an even more rapid acceleration of cases in the near term. “These are going to be some tough months ahead,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

We can all do our part. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep physical distance (but keep socially close — call a friend today). We will eventually beat this, but there will be some rough sledding over the next few months.

Here are this week’s coronavirus stats, all sourced from covidtracking.com.

US stats for the week ending Friday, October 23 (with % change from previous week):

Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 7,580,449 (+4%)
New cases: 441,541 (+15%)
Cumulative US cases: 8,449,231
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 41,485 (+11%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 8,237 (+14%)
Deaths: 5,544 (+17%)
Cumulative US deaths: 215,761

CA stats for the week ending Friday, October 23 (with % change from previous week):

Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 861,337 (-3%)
New cases: 25,389 (+11%)
Cumulative CA cases: 886,865
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 3,011 (-1%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 754 (+6%)
Deaths: 432 (+7%)
Cumulative CA deaths: 17,262

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