COVID-19 Hospitalizations Have Doubled in One Month

 cartogram showing the change in currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients for each state since Nov 25. The majority of states saw this figure increase, but Upper Plains states like ND, SD, IA, and WI saw decreases.

The current hospitalizations metric doesn’t distinguish between newly admitted COVID-19 patients and those who have been in the hospital for days or weeks already, so we looked at the new admissions data available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see if it shed any light on the situation in the Midwest.

A cartogram showing the change in COVID-19 hospital admissions from Nov 22 to Nov 29. Admissions rose the most in Western states, while falling slightly in many Midwest states.

Of the seven Midwest states with drops in current hospitalizations, six also showed decreases in new COVID-19 admissions: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The only other state with drops in both hospitalization metrics is well outside the Midwest: Hawaii showed a 19 percent decline in current hospitalizations, backed up by a big drop in new admissions as well. Fewer than 1,300 people have been hospitalized in Hawaii since the pandemic began, and the state currently claims the country’s lowest per-capita case rate. This week South Dakota had the highest number of new cases per capita, followed closely by Minnesota and North Dakota. A state with Dakota in its name has had the highest rate of reported cases per capita for every one of the past 14 weeks. North Dakota has seen so many fatalities from COVID-19 that the state has stopped being able to reliably count deaths, as we described in a blog post earlier this week.

California, the nation’s most populous state, this week reported more COVID-19 cases than any other U.S. state or territory (on a per-capita basis, it ranks solidly in the middle). Still: One in 1,900 California residents was identified as a COVID-19 case, and one in 4,200 is hospitalized with COVID-19. On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom warned that the state’s hospitals are rapidly filling up, and he suggested the state could run out of ICU beds in some regions by mid-December. The White House Coronavirus Task Force also said that post-Thanksgiving surges could put hospitals nationwide over the edge, further compromising patient care.

4 bar charts showing the change in currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients in California, Florida, New York, and Texas. All 4 states are seeing patient increases, but California's is the most rapid.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield cautioned that the next few months could be “the most difficult time in the public-health history of this nation,” and said the country’s death toll could reach 450,000 by February. As hospitalizations continue rising nationally, we should expect rising deaths to follow. Thanksgiving reporting caused the seven-day average for reported deaths to dip sharply, but we expect reported deaths to return to their previous trend once the holiday data irregularities have passed.

2 line charts overlaid on one another, the first showing 7-day average deaths from COVID-19, the second currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The hospitalizations line is rising quickly over recent days, while deaths dipped around Thanksgiving and are now rising once more.

A few days before Thanksgiving, we posted a warning that we expected U.S. COVID-19 data to get knocked off track by the holiday’s effects on testing and reporting. One week later, it’s time to see what actually happened, how closely it followed our expectations, and what we think is yet to come.

Based on the patterns we’ve seen on weekends and over previous holidays, we predicted that case, test, and deaths data would flatten or drop over the holidays, then spike again afterward as backlogged data rolled in.

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