On Tuesday, the country recorded more than 135,000 new infections, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, reaching a seven-day average of nearly 121,000 new cases. In other words, since Election Day, about 850,000 new coronavirus cases have been detected, or 1 in 390 Americans.
The number of deaths had averaged more than 1,000 each day for the past week, with 1,400 dying Tuesday. According to data from the COVID Tracking Project, the country also hit a high, 62,000, in the number of people hospitalized with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Seventeen states, mostly in the Midwest and the Plains, hit hospitalization highs.
The number of cases of infections and the number of hospitalizations have been consistently predictive of the number of deaths that would follow. Since July 1, the seven-day average of deaths each day has been about 1.7 percent of the average number of new cases and about 2.1 percent of the number of hospitalizations (cumulative) two weeks prior. There’s been some variation, but not much.
If we apply those averages to the actual number of cases and hospitalizations, the relationship is clear. At the moment, the number of deaths is a bit lower than we’d expect, given the number of cases observed two weeks ago, but a bit higher, given the number of hospitalizations.
We can estimate that if the current values hold, the toll will be likely to be between 1,300 and 1,900 cases in two weeks’ time. But that’s assuming that everything else remains equal: That, for example, hospitals aren’t too overwhelmed to handle new covid-19 cases. Given the patterns we’re seeing, that may not be a fair assumption.
You’ll remember that earlier this year, Americans became familiar with the concept of “flattening the curve.” The goal was to prevent surges in new infections that would flood hospitals, endangering not only covid-19 patients but anyone needing access to an intensive care unit. If current case totals continue to climb, that may pose a real threat. The number of deaths could rise simply because there were too many cases to properly treat.
Trump and his team have embraced a hands-off approach to the pandemic, with predictable results. Part of that approach has been predicated on the idea that the country would be able to handle a surge in new cases — but no effort appears to have been made to actually accommodate it. The result is more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths with no end in sight to either the trends or the increases.