Surging Surge

The surge is still surging.   Wednesday saw 78,981 new cases which brought the 7-day average up to 74,340.  That average has increased by about 14,000 over the last week.  If that rate of increase continues, it will be over 80,000 sometime this weekend.  Based on the usual weekly cycle, Thursday, Friday and Saturday will each almost certainly be above 80,000 and at least one of those days may approach 100,000.  Also, sometime this weekend we will likely cross the 9 million cumulative cases mark.

Here’s the graph.

Deaths have risen somewhat, but don’t yet seem to be accelerating in the way that cases are.  This isn’t unexpected as it mirrors the pattern of rising cases early in the month.  I would expect them to begin accelerating in another week or so.  I don’t really have a guess about how high they will rise.  On the one hand, we’ve gotten a lot better at treating the disease.  On the other hand many of the hard hit areas lack the medical infrastructure that was available to the hotspots of the first two surges.  

Of course, much depends on just how high the cases rise.  I don’t expect to see much effort to reduce infection rates prior to the election.  If states were to take action immediately after, we might see some effect by Thanksgiving on the 26.  However, if the election results are delayed or contested, as seems likely, state action might be further delayed.  My bet is that Thanksgiving will happen with case numbers at or near record levels.  That, of course, would not bode well for December if a substantial portion of people have holiday gatherings as usual.

To get a sense of the breadth of this surge, here is a list of states ordered by their current 7-day case average.

27 states have a 7-day case average above 1000.  At the height of the summer surge, on July 22nd, only 14 states were above 1000.  Back then, the 3 top states were at around 10,000 cases per day each, so the cases were more geographically concentrated than they are now.  As a result, actions to reduce infections in a few states had a large impact on the national numbers.  We don’t have that advantage this time.  Instead, we’ll need to see significant action across a wide range of states, something there seems to be little appetite for in the current moment.

In sum, things look pretty gloomy.  A lot depends on how the election turns out and how politicians react to it.  If they, and we, can put politics behind and focus on working together, there is a lot that might yet be done to contain the virus.  If they, or we, decide that the results legitimize a do-nothing approach, the numbers could rise very high indeed.  Cross your fingers and hope for the best.  But also, wear your mask, socially distance, avoid crowds – especially indoors, and wash your hands.  

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