National COVID case numbers are rising again. There is some noise in the data that allows for debate about the degree of rise, but there are enough states with clear increases that there’s no doubt that we’re rising.
First, let’s look at the national graph since March 2020 to put the current numbers in context.
Current case levels are roughly where they were in August, lower than the peak of the summer surge, but higher than the lowest levels in September. Daily deaths are also somewhere between the summer peak and the autumn trough. Let’s zoom in to better see what’s going on now.
Here is the graph since the beginning of 2021. This includes the winter peak, but not the spring and summer ones.
You can see the numbers rise over the last few days at the right edge of the graph. Some of that rise is due to a data spike in New York, but there’s more to it than that. The clearest place to see this is in Michigan.
There is really no disputing that Michigan is rising and has been for about a month. Michigan’s winter peak was in December so it doesn’t show on this graph, but they’ve risen about halfway back to that peak.
Michigan is the most extreme case, but it’s far from the only one. Here is Maryland, for example.
Overall, the following 17 states have a clear rising pattern in daily cases: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Of the remaining states, the majority have relatively steady numbers and only a very few are declining. So with a third of states rising and very few declining, it’s clear that the rise in national numbers is more than just noise.
Here is a map showing the 7 day case average for each state adjusted for population. Because of the data spike I mentioned earlier, New York may be over-reported on this map. My best guess is that it’s number should be around 30.
I can’t really say what to expect going forward. On the positive side, vaccination rates are increasing and combined with the large number of people who already have had COVID we should see some herd immunity pressure keeping the numbers lower. On the negative side, new variants are somewhat resistant to antibodies from earlier strains, we seem to be rushing to throw aside precautions, and we’re starting from a higher floor of infections than we had earlier. If I had to guess, I would think we’ll have a spring peak that is worse than the summer peak was but not as bad as the winter peak. I want to emphasize that is only a guess and I don’t have a lot of confidence in it. The actual result could be anywhere from almost no peak to a peak as bad as the winter peak. For now, we just have to wait and see what the numbers bring.
In the meantime, I recommend getting vaccinated as soon as you can, and continuing to follow masking and social distancing protocols as much as possible.. Vaccines aren’t perfect protection, you’ll see headlines about vaccinated people getting COVID, but they’re the best protection we have. In an interesting twist, so far vaccines seem to be more protective than actually being infected.