COVID-19 DIARIES, WEEK OF 6 NOVEMBER 2020

The Virus Is Winning

We’re back to record risk levels, both nationwide and here in Ventura County

There were two contests this week, both centered on the coronavirus, and both with clear winners and losers. In the contest that got less attention, the one pitting humans against the virus, the virus is winning.

The rate of new US cases has risen unchecked over the past few weeks, and is essentially out of control around the nation. Five weeks ago, there were an average of 47,000 new cases per day; this past week, that number was 97,000 new cases, a 106% increase.
Every key coronavirus metric rose across the US this past week. For the second straight week, growth in new cases increased three times faster than tests, 24% to 8%. In the past five weeks, new cases are up more than 100%. Hospitalizations and deaths also rose by double-digit percentages compared with week-ago totals.

Nationally, statewide, and here in Ventura County, new infections are way up over the past month, and show every indication of continuing to rise unchecked. Positivity increased from 7.2% to 8.2% among all age groups in all regions, according to the CDC. The numbers of hospital and ICU patients also increased. There are complete US and state statistics at the end of this post.

In California, new cases rose 14% while testing declined by 1%. Hospitalizations also rose. About the only positive note is that California deaths declined 5% this week; however, bear in mind that deaths are a trailing indicator, and may rise a few weeks after spikes in infections and hospitalizations.

Deaths fell in California, but may rise in the next few weeks. Deaths are a trailing indicator, and the state’s rise in new cases occurred a bit later than the national increase.

As this chart from computational biologist Mike Bass shows, new coronavirus cases in Ventura County — although lower in absolute terms than the state or nation — grew at a rapid clip this week. Using the state’s color-coded system for risk rating, Ventura County has risen back into purple-tier risk levels, and the numbers are continuing to climb.

Here in Ventura County, computational biologist Mike Bass plotted new-case data against the state’s color-coded risk system. According to the state’s data on Ventura County, we’ve gone back to the purple tier, the state’s highest-risk category, and have been there for several days.

This doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate downgrade for Ventura County. Metrics have to worsen for two consecutive weeks for the state to move the county back into the purple tier. Still, recent new-case numbers strongly suggest the county is moving in that direction, along with the rest of the nation.

New cases rose in nearly every state last week. As this map from the Johns Hopkins school of public health shows, no state saw declines in new case rates this past week. Around the nation, the virus continued to grow, or in a very few states remained the same relatively high levels.
Even adjusted for population, the virus is growing fast in almost every state of the nation. For the first time anywhere in the world, North Dakota exceeded 2,000 new cases per million population. Five other Great Plains states also saw more than 1,000 new cases per million. Elsewhere, new cases rose or remained flat compared with week-ago totals.

The deteriorating situation will likely be accompanied by calls for renewed closures, even in the face of “covid fatigue.” Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden suggests closures can be targeted rather than wholesale, for example keeping schools, childcare, shopping, and hair salons open, but with reduced indoor gatherings in other places. Frieden cites success with similar practices in Ireland.

Also this week, one of president-elect Biden’s first policy steps was to announce the formation of his own coronavirus task force, and to pledge to follow its medical and scientific advice. The transition team hasn’t yet named all members of the panel, but it will be led by former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy and former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler.

A likely recommendation will be some sort of national mask mandate, something that already has broad support. President Trump’s first FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, called for a similar mandate in a Wall St. Journal op-ed two weeks ago.

I’m not a lawyer, and am unclear if federal public-health mandates are even possible. Whatever form the response takes, there is consensus that a mask mandate and at least some limited closures will be both helpful and necessary.

The president-elect announced the new panel and mask mandate as part of a seven-point plan to combat the virus. Other proposals include doubling drive-through testing nationwide; using wartime powers to manufacture enough PPE and tests for vulnerable populations; and injecting another $25 billion into manufacturing and distributing vaccines.

With new infections continuing to rise sharply, we face a grim few weeks ahead. Quoting Dr. Frieden again, it’s essential we reduce the time from infectivity to isolation.

More and faster testing, better tracing, faster isolation — it’s the only way we can reduce the infectious burden. Stay safe, and wear a mask!

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

US stats for the week ending Friday, November 6 (with % change from previous week):

Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 9,246,592 (+8%)
New cases: 679,069 (+24%)
Cumulative US cases: 9,666,700
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 54,824 (+17%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 11,085 (+17%)
Deaths: 6,785 (+21%)
Cumulative US deaths: 228,141

CA stats for the week ending Friday, November 6 (with % change from previous week):

Total tests (positive, negative, pending): 951826 (-1%)
New cases: 34,176 (+14%)
Cumulative CA cases: 951,094
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations: 3,489 (+11%)
Confirmed COVID-19 ICU: 923 (+20%)
Deaths: 295 (-5%)
Cumulative CA deaths: 17,866

Photographer, editor, recovering engineer.