COVID Weekly Report for Dec. 2, 2020: No letup as pandemic surge breaks records daily

Each week we scour the internet to collect the latest information on the COVID battle from global to local levels.  Our aim is to provide you – our readers – with a one-stop-shop to gain a comprehensive overview of progress in fighting the pandemic at all levels. 

NOTE: The Snohomish Health District will now be posting its weekly data updates on Tuesdays rather than Mondays. Our report draws heavily from this, and accordingly future reports will be published here on Tuesdays as well.

As millions of Americans return home in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, experts are sounding the alarm that the coronavirus could be stowing away with them, threatening to push the infection beyond the already record-setting levels.

According to Johns Hopkins University, on Sunday the United States reported 109,671 new cases and 731 deaths. Sunday also saw hospitalizations hit a record high of 93,238, surpassing Saturday’s record-breaking 91,635 level (numbers from the COVID Tracking Project) and pushing hospitals nationwide to capacity and beyond.

To date, more than 266,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. This month alone, the U.S. added 4.1 million cases, more than one third of the total number since the pandemic began.

Given the two- to three-week incubation period of the disease, experts are predicting that effects of the surge in Thanksgiving-related travel will show up in further increases in hospitalizations and deaths beginning with the Christmas holidays and into the new year.

Health officials advise anyone who spent time with people outside their households over Thanksgiving to self-quarantine for at least 10 days and get tested immediately if any symptoms develop.

In our area, the Snohomish Health District is doubling down on its plea to strictly follow masking and social distancing guidelines to help stave off the need for further shutdowns.

“Rather than people worrying about another ‘stay home’ period, it would really be a better use of everyone’s energy and efforts if we limit our social gatherings now and mask up,” said Shawn Frederick, administrative officer for the Snohomish Health District. “If we practice good social distancing and use masks when around people outside of our household, we don’t need to worry about the what-if’s. We absolutely have the ability to control this now with our individual efforts.”

Hope is on the horizon, however, as three promising vaccines move closer to deployment with tens of thousands of doses now being shipped from manufacturers to targeted distribution points in the U.S and abroad. The  Food and Drug Administration is anticipating issuing Emergency Use Authorizations within the next few weeks that would clear the way for high-risk groups to be vaccinated before the end of December (read more here).

To help you, our readers, navigate this sea of information and sort this out for yourselves, here once again are the latest numbers, charts and statistics from the world to our own backyards.

The world and national situation: 

This week’s global COVID case count hit a new high, topping 63 million, adding more than 4 million to last week’s figure (see our earlier reports from Nov. 23 and  Nov. 16 for comparison).  The United States added just shy of 1 million new cases last week, surpassing the 13 million mark, as it continues to lead the world in overall number of cases since the pandemic began.  Worldwide deaths have surpassed 1.4 million, with the U.S. (now at more than 257,000 deaths) still comprising almost 20 percent of the global death total while accounting for 4.25% of the world population (331 million vs 7.8 billion).

The most recent tabular display of the top 10 nations from the World Health Organization shows similar numbers. Note that the small discrepancies of these with the Johns Hopkins data are due to the updates being taken in different time zones (WHO is based in Europe, and due to time differences the numbers are approximately 10 hours earlier than Johns Hopkins), a testament to how quickly the infection is claiming new victims.

While the U.S. leads the world in overall case numbers, when the numbers are viewed as cases per capita (cases per 1 million population in this case) the U.S. remains in 12th place, unchanged since last week. Note that all these nations comprise much smaller samples, so while statistically these countries may show a higher per-capita rate, the small sample size makes comparisons with U.S. dubious at best. See the complete interactive table where you can rank countries by any of the various metrics here.

As reflected in the World Health Organization’s regional comparison below, the daily caseload counts appear to be backing off slightly in both Europe and the Americas.

The U.S. climbed from eighth to seventh place this week in COVID deaths per 100,000 population, while at the same time reflecting the worldwide trend of steady increases. This week the U.S. hit 81.57 COVID deaths per 100K, compared to 78.49 last week and 75.26 the week before. (Mortality chart from Johns Hopkins University).

Overall trends in the United States for the past 90 days and since April 1 are respectively summarized in the two charts below from the COVID Tracking Project.

 

The Washington state situation:

Statewide, we continue to set new records, as the virus rages across Washington. The most recent (Nov. 28) state overview from the Washington Department of Health (DOH) shows confirmed cases at 162,700, a seven-day gain of more than 20,000 (equal to roughly half the total population of Edmonds) from last week’s total of 141,260. That’s a staggering 3,000-plus new cases per day, up from 1,600 last week. Deaths have now reached 2,703, up from 2619 last week. Note that according to the Snohomish Health District “new cases” is defined as confirmed positive tests reported to public health.

The skyrocketing daily new case counts (as of Nov. 27) for Washington state show us moving further into record territory, making the April and August peaks look like molehills by comparison (see the interactive chart for Washington State on the Johns Hopkins website here).

This record surge is further reflected in the Nov. 26 case rate of 357.2 (cases per 100K population, two-week rolling average) up 5.3 percentage points from the previous week’s figure of 351.9 and putting the state goal of 25 (which we actually achieved as recently as March) increasingly out of reach.

Trends in Washington state’s daily hospitalization and death counts continue their steady rise, with hospitalizations now surpassing the previous peak in April (deaths, while also on the rise, have yet to reach record levels of this past spring). The grey bars on the hospitalization chart are based on incomplete data, and are expected to rise even further as these figures become finalized (note that the hospitalization chart from DOH reflects Nov 28 data, while the mortality chart from Johns Hopkins includes data through Nov. 25).

Due to the testing system being overwhelmed with unprecedented numbers of Washingtonians seeking tests in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, the numbers below are preliminary and are based on partial data (see the statement from the DOH here). The Department of Health is working on increasing test data reporting capacity and says it will update numbers this week.

Despite the rising numbers, as of last week no Washington counties have officially reverted to an earlier phase of reopening under the Safe Start program, although new restrictions have imposed renewed shutdowns and other measures similar to those mandated under the original Safe Start guidelines. Note that the numbers to the left of the map summarize the latest numbers of critical metrics, some of which are reported in more detail above.

State demographic patterns continue unchanged, with the Nov. 20 report following the familiar pattern of most infections among younger people, and most hospitalizations and deaths in older populations. With those age 80 or older comprising a mere 4% of cases but at the same time more than half the COVID-related deaths, people 65 and over will almost certainly be among the first groups to receive the vaccine once distribution begins.

 

The Snohomish County situation:

The county numbers overview as of Nov. 28 shows total confirmed cases surpassing the 14,000 mark for the first time, hitting a new high of 14,394, a gain of more than 1,000 over the previous week’s total of 12,337) and 276 total deaths, 15 more than last week.

The Nov. 28 Snohomish County daily new case count continues its climb into record territory as the following two charts illustrate, surpassing previous counts and showing no sign of letting up. The first chart from DOH indicates incomplete data with grey bars. The second chart from the Snohomish Health District provides daily numbers for the entire record-keeping period, but as with DOH the most recent data are still being finalized.

Trends in critical county measures over time (total cases, recovered cases, and active cases as of Nov. 30) continue to move further into record territory, as the curve for total cases increases exponentially. Note particularly the steeper increases in total cases (now just shy of 16,000) and active cases increasing by more than 1,500 and hitting a new high of 5,866.

The two-week rolling average case rate chart from the Snohomish Health District continues the sharp gains of the past 30 days, standing at 368, a gain of 68 percentage points from last week’s rate of 300.

This week we have added a new chart to more clearly show cumulative COVID-related mortality trends in Snohomish County.  Including deaths on the same chart with the same vertical scale as the other critical metrics makes trends difficult to discern because the numbers are smaller.  Accordingly, the chart below shows how deaths are increasing countywide, and increasing more sharply over the past month as the “third wave” of the pandemic hits Snohomish County.

The latest numbers on deaths at the county level stretching back to March are reported in the charts and tables below from the Snohomish Health District (compare these with the above chart).

The testing activity table (weekly numbers) and chart (rolling average) from the Snohomish Health District is the same as previously reported (numbers through Nov. 14) due to issues with processing data at the county level (read more here).  We include it again here for reference.

 

 

The Local situation in our home cities:

Note: With the exception of death numbers, these data are taken from the most recent updates from the Snohomish Health District Snapshots and Reports web page. As data are verified, occasional true-ups are made in the interest of accuracy and these may result in changes to previously posted numbers. Verified death numbers lag by a week, and are taken from the Dec. 2  COVID-19 Weekly Update report from the Snohomish Health District. Because these are coming from two different sources, where necessary figures have been interpolated for clarity.

Critical metrics (total cases, recovered cases, deaths, and active cases) for our home cities are shown in the charts below. Note particularly the worrying upward trends in total cases and active cases continues this week, accompanied by a much slower increase in recoveries – all indicate that in our local area we are getting sicker at an ever-increasing rate.

The local numbers summary, data as of 11/23:

The data, tables and charts in today’s report come from the following sources:

— By Larry Vogel

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