Visualizing the omicron wave striking and rolling across the country

The omicron wave blew case rates and hospitalizations to new national records as it hit the Northeast in January. But it has already turned elsewhere.

The omicron variant pushed the nation’s coronavirus case rates to more than triple their historic highs with shocking speed. There was hope for equally fast relief as rates in some areas quickly declined. From the national view, the trend seemed straight down.

Across the country, however, the pattern is more complex. Some states still have rising case rates.

The delta variant first hit the Ozark region of southern Missouri, northern Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. Within weeks, it spread east across the gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, plus Georgia. Hospitalization and death records were set.

In September, the wave waned in Missouri, Arkansas and Florida as it spread west in Texas and north through Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and the Ohio River Valley. It also went northwest to Nebraska and through the Rocky Mountains to eastern Oregon.

Coronavirus cases plummeted in Southern states, but the delta wave rolled to the Upper Midwest, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The delta variant’s post-peak trough had six times the case rate as the level before the delta wave began. Omicron covered the Northeast with shocking speed.

The omicron variant spread to Illinois and Wisconsin, Los Angeles and Atlanta – relatively well-vaccinated locations that had seemed immune for months. The Northeast’s case rates dropped to the nation’s lowest, as the wave rebounded back south from Florida to California.

The regions being hit now are not as well vaccinated as the Northeast states first affected by the coronavirus variant.

Cases in the Northeast have dropped more than half from the January peak. Even with the drop, case rates are far higher than before omicron. Rising rates in the West swept past the Northeast two weeks ago. Now, the Northeast has the lowest case rate of those four major regions, and the South has started to decline as well.

Death rates are also high in many states and have more than doubled over the past week in Virginia, Oregon, Nebraska, Washington and Florida. The seven-day average for total deaths in the United States reached 2,430 on Thursday, a toll not seen since January of 2021.

The regions with the highest case rates have less protection than the Northeast, where 73 percent of people are fully vaccinated (not counting boosters). In the West, 66 percent of people have full vaccination. In the Midwest and South, the rates are 60 percent and 59 percent.

Some states are descending the back side of the wave as fast as others are shooting up. The omicron variant is quickly hitting the West, while rates remain high in many parts of the South and Midwest. Alaska, Kansas and New Mexico have some of the highest case rates. Right behind them with some of the fastest increases are Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Case rates in New York and New Jersey have dropped to less than a third of their January highs. Connecticut, South Carolina and D.C. are less than half of their peaks. California has flattened out below its highest rate but has not yet sharply declined. Florida’s decline has also leveled off.

[See the Post’s covid tracker for detailed trends on cases, deaths and hospitalization for every state.]

Like omicron, the delta variant started with a concentrated region, then peaked and spread.

As that variant sharply declined in the South in October, the Midwest had the nation’s highest rates. But then omicron arrived, surging into Pennsylvania, New York and New England in December. The newest variant drove up case rates nationally, but it was the Northeast that fared the worst in the early days of the latest surge.

Simon Ducroquet contributed to this report.

About this story

Data for states comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s daily rates. Regions were aggregated from the states. Rates are rolling seven-day average daily cases per 100,000 population.

The animation map shows county case rates per 100,000 population. The data is from county rates published by the CDC in two places.

The map animation uses a seven-step scale calculated independently for each map, so it does not use a fixed scale. It reflects the geographic distribution of case rates, not the scale of the delta and omicron peaks.

Dan Keating analyzes data for projects, stories, graphics and interactive online presentations.
Madison Dong is a graphics reporter for The Washington Post.
Tim Meko designs and develops maps, data visualizations and explanatory graphics. Before coming to The Post, he led the visuals team at the Urban Institute and was an infographics artist at the Columbus Dispatch.