COVID-19 Deaths Are 25 Percent Higher Than in Any Other Week

Hospitalization data do offer a small glimmer of hope this week: Although current hospitalizations are up week over week, a slight flattening in the numbers over the past five days suggests the possibility of a plateau—albeit a plateau at a devastatingly high number.

The national summary includes data from regions with falling hospitalizations as well as those with surging outbreaks. In the regional view, we can see that the growth in hospitalizations appears to be slowing in the Northwest, and perhaps in the West, while Midwest hospitalizations continue to decline. In the South, hospitalizations are still rising.

Regional and state breakdowns of the data are important not only for seeing where outbreaks have reached especially dangerous levels, but for helping us understand where public-health mitigation efforts appear to be working to slow the spread of the virus. The U.S. Census divides the United States into the four main regions we use for all our regional charts, but also into nine subregional divisions. We looked at the hospital data through this more granular view to see where hospitalizations are rising and falling within the major regions.  

In the West, hospitalizations are sharply up in the Pacific division, reflecting Southern California’s surging outbreaks, while the Mountain division has plateaued. Hospitalizations are rising throughout the South, but most sharply in the South Atlantic, reflecting rises in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. In the Middle Atlantic region of the Northeast, hospitalizations are rising quickly, driven by increases in New York State, but in the New England division, they have plateaued. In the Midwest, hospitalizations in both regional divisions continue to drop, indicating ongoing easing of outbreaks across those areas.

State-level data can also obscure important differences within states and between metro areas. Our team has released an interactive map interface for the facility-level hospitalization data set from HHS to enable much more detailed explorations of hospital capacity and COVID-19 patient counts.

We’re watching five states especially closely this week: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, and Georgia.

In Alabama, which already has the second-highest per capita COVID-19 hospitalizations in the country, hospitals are bracing for a major surge. According to reporting, eight counties in the state have no hospitals, and one, Coosa County, has no public-health department and no locations on the state’s vaccine distribution site list.  

Arizona, which suffered a massive outbreak during the summer case surge concentrated in the Sun Belt, has the worst per capita new-case numbers in the world. The state’s seven-day average for new cases per million residents yesterday was 1,316, making Arizona’s outbreak substantially more severe than any national outbreak in the world for which we have data. Arizona is also once again reporting the highest per capita hospitalizations in the U.S. In the Phoenix area, hospital systems are pleading for additional public-health mitigation measures and are preparing to ration care. The state currently has no mask order in place, and indoor dining is permitted up to 50 percent capacity. The Phoenix New Times reports that Governor Ducey has “deflected calls for greater state-level mitigation measures, saying that what is in place is sufficient and the issue is enforcement.” Meanwhile, Arizona’s biggest provider of COVID-19 tests says it’s on the verge of shutting down because the state has not provided any CARES Act funding to support its efforts.

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