Oct 22, 2020 - Health

The pandemic is getting worse again

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Due to a database error, Missouri had a 3 day gap in reporting from Oct. 11-13; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Due to a database error, Missouri had a 3 day gap in reporting from Oct. 11-13; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Every available piece of data proves it: The coronavirus pandemic is getting worse again, all across America.

The big picture: As the death toll ticks past 212,000, at a moment when containing the virus ought to be easier and more urgent than ever, we are instead giving it a bigger foothold to grow from.

  • And that's even before we head into winter, when the risk of cases and deaths is expected to grow as everyone huddles indoors in closed spaces.

Where it stands: The U.S. is now averaging about 59,000 new infections per day — the most since early August. New cases were up by about 15% over the past week.

  • That’s the sixth straight week of increases, following a brief improvement after the summer's surge in cases.
  • Hospitalizations are up, too. There are about 39,000 people in the hospital today for COVID-19, also the most since early August.
  • In 16 states, the share of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients is as high right now as it’s been at any point in the pandemic.

Another key metric — the percentage of all tests that come back positive — is also on the rise.

  • The U.S. is conducting a lot of tests — more than 1 million per day, on average.
  • The positivity rate grew to about 5.3% over the past week. A rising positivity rate means we’re not simply catching more cases. It means there are more cases out there to catch.

Why it matters: When cases are up, the positivity rate is up and hospitalizations are up, there’s only one conclusion: The outbreak is getting bigger.

One piece of good news: The death rate from the virus is the one thing that isn’t going up.

  • Patients who are in the hospital for the coronavirus — those with the most severe infections — have about a 7.6% chance of dying, according to new research. That’s a significant improvement from the early days of the pandemic.

Yes, but: A 7.6% chance of death is still higher than other infections, including the flu.

  • And even if it doesn’t kill you, the virus may still do lasting damage to the heart, lungs, immune system and maybe the brain.

Between the lines: As much as medical advancements have helped make the virus less lethal, stopping its spread would still be the best way to move past this pandemic. You can’t die from the coronavirus if you never catch the coronavirus.

  • Yet the U.S. has stubbornly refused to take the steps necessary to get the virus under control.

What’s next: A vaccine will be a momentous, life-saving step forward, but it won’t be the knockout blow many Americans are hoping for. It probably won’t stop the virus from spreading altogether, and only a handful of people will be able to get it. And experts have every reason to believe things will get worse in the meantime.

  • Colder weather is expected to generate bigger outbreaks than warmer weather, because it’s harder to do things outside and thus to keep a safe distance.
  • We’re now at nearly 60,000 cases a day here in the early fall, and saw an even bigger surge in the pleasant days of early summer. If that’s the virus at its ebb, the winter could be rough.
  • The combination of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu could lead to some more serious complications for vulnerable people, including seniors.

The bottom line: The U.S. does not have the virus under control, has never had the virus under control and has not really tried that hard to get the virus under control — even though we know how.

Each week, Axios tracks the change in new infections in each state. We use a seven-day average to minimize the effects of day-to-day discrepancies in states’ reporting.

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