Rising Worry

While there is still a higher than usual amount of noise in the numbers, it is increasingly clear that daily case numbers are steadily rising nationally and that the increase is quite widespread.  About half of the states show increasing trends in case numbers and no states are showing clear, sustained declines. Our 7-day average is just over 45,000, the highest it has been since August 20.

A few states are rising quite quickly, but these mostly seem to be lower population states that don’t impact the national numbers as much.  Montana is a good example here.  It’s daily cases numbers have more than tripled over the last month, but even so, they remain below 400 per day.  Clearly, Montanans should be concerned and cautious as this puts them at about 3 times the national per capita average.  However, Montana’s population is low enough that this level of infection isn’t enough to move the needle at the national level.  Here is Montana’ graph:

Wisconsin, by comparison, has about the same per capita caseload as Montana, but with six times the population it has six times the number of cases.  This is enough to have a noticeable impact at the national level.  Indeed, Wisconsin’s 7-day average for cases is the third highest in the nation, just edging out Florida.  Here is Wisconsin’s graph:

Again, it’s a little tough to know what to say about these numbers overall.  The slow rise, especially from an already high baseline, is concerning.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the national numbers rise dramatically over the next week.  However, there are also reasons to think that might not happen.  

Beyond all the usual uncertainties, the current cycle is muddied by the politics of the moment.  For example, it’s hard to predict whether the President’s infection and hospitalization will increase or decrease mask wearing.  On the one hand, it may raise awareness of the dangers and prompt people to be more cautious.  On the other, it may result in a backlash in which people are even less likely to wear masks.  Another concern is whether the reported numbers will become even less accurate due to political influence.  With the looming election, it may be tempting for some to put their fingers on the scale by manipulating the numbers.  This doesn’t have to involve outright lying, it’s enough to simply make testing more or less available.  I don’t have any evidence that this is currently impacting the numbers, but COVID has become enough of a political issue that it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened.

Because of the uncertainty, I’m not going to project ahead ten days this time.  Be aware that numbers are increasing and so risks are increasing overall also.  Pay attention to your local numbers in assessing your risks.  I’m happy to provide charts for states in the comments, but you should also try to locate your county’s numbers as they may tell a different story for your local area. 

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