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Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive is rising across the country, including in states that are also seeing a spike in cases.

Why it matters: High positivity rates indicate a worsening outbreak, and put together with the rise in cases and hospitalizations across the country, suggest that the U.S. is in bad shape.

The big picture: The virus is spreading throughout the U.S. It's not concentrated in any one region, as it was during the previous waves.

  • It's unlikely to spread only among young, healthy people. The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living released a report yesterday highlighting the link between community spread and nursing home cases, and showing a recent uptick in both.

By the numbers: Nationally, the positivity rate was 5.3%, on average, over the last 7 days — an increase from the 4.7% positivity rate over the prior 7 days.

  • For context, the World Health Organization recommended in May that the positivity rate remain below 5% for at least two weeks before governments reopen. 17 states and D.C. currently met that threshold over the last week.
  • Idaho, Nevada, South Dakota and Iowa each had a positivity rate greater than 25% over the last 7 days. Nearly half of coronavirus tests in Iowa are coming back positive.

The bottom line: The virus already has a firm foothold in most of the country, and cold weather — which is right around the corner — will likely accelerate today's trends.

  • This all means more deaths, more economic devastation, and more isolation and psychological strain. If we'd gotten the virus under control during the summer, we'd have saved ourselves from a lot of this coming pain.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Health

Fauci: COVID vaccine rollout needs to prioritize people of color

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci highlighted the need to address racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccination process, per an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What he’s saying: "I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of. We don't want in the beginning ... most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."

Jan 27, 2021 - Health

OIG: HHS misused millions of dollars intended for public health threats

Vaccine vials. Photo: Punit Paranjpe/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel alerted the White House and Congress on Wednesday of an investigation that found the Department of Health and Human Services misused millions of dollars that were budgeted for vaccine research and public health emergencies for Ebola, Zika and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: The more than 200-page investigation corroborated claims from a whistleblower, showing the agency's violation of the Purpose Statute spanned both the Obama and Trump administrations and paid for unrelated projects like salaries, news subscriptions and the removal of office furniture.

2021 economy boomed at fastest rate in 37 years

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The U.S. economy surged ahead with a 6.9% annual growth rate in the final months of 2021 and achieved the strongest growth over an entire calendar year since 1984.

Driving the news: New GDP numbers from the Commerce Department show a remarkable acceleration in economic activity, much faster than the 5.3% growth rate analysts expected.