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COVID-19: The Holiday Data Fog Clears

By Jerald Hughes

& Scott Robinson

The post-holiday period has long been predicted by the medical experts to be a very difficult period in the COVID-19 pandemic. The holiday periods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, as expected and predicted here, introduced disruptions in the reported data, so that it became difficult for a while to track exactly what is going on. That period is now over. For the past 3-4 days, we have seen the worst effects of COVID-19 ever in the USA, on multiple measures. Many sites routinely report cases and deaths at all-time highs (we recommend the New York Times data).

The remainder of this post will provide other calculated measures relevant to our period of worst-ever dangers of COVID-19 during this third wave. The numbers of COVID-19 cases began to take off about October 7, so the third wave has lasted 94 days so far (almost 20 days beyond original projections), and currently shows no signs of reaching a peak.

The 7-day average of numbers currently hospitalized is at an all-time high of 129,331. The following chart shows hospitalizations. The slope of this line increased for about the first half of the period charted. While still increasing, the slope slightly lessened until about Jan 1; since then it has been steepening again, indicating a worsening crisis.

Chart: 3rd Wave Hospitalizations

The numbers of those currently hospitalized is related to the numbers of cases reported, on about a 12-day lag. That ratio has fluctuated between 78.12% and 54.44% during the third wave; currently it is 72.51% and climbing for the last 11 days. If we conservatively estimate a low ratio of just 65%, then within about 12 days we should see hospitalization numbers as high as 158,562. If this ratio gets no worse than it is now, we could still see hospitalizations as high as 176,870.

Positivity rate is another important indicator. Medical experts tell us that positivity rates should be below 5% and decreasing. The following chart computes the positivity rates by dividing the 7-day average of new cases by the 7-day average of total tests given.

Chart: 3rd Wave Positivity

The positivity rates are currently at catastrophically high levels, 13.79% as of January 8, and still rising. From this we should conclude that the third wave still has a long way to run. In the second wave, the peak positivity rate roughly coincided with the peak of the wave. For this measure, we are looking for the slope of this curve to reach zero. In the second wave during the summer, it took 40 days for positivity rates to drop from their peak of 7.65% to below 5%. This measure also indicates that the third wave still has a long way to go.

All opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect those of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, or any organizations of which either is a member.

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