We are still in the virus’s third surge in this country, with 2.7 Americans being infected with the virus every second at this point. Every day, the country conducts nearly 2 million coronavirus tests; about 12 percent of those come back positive. In the first two surges of the virus, the number of people hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, topped out near 60,000 nationally. The last time the number of people in the hospital for covid was less than twice that figure was Dec. 28.
Cases lead to hospitalizations, which lead to deaths. In the past week, more than 23,000 Americans have died of covid according to the Covid Tracking Project. That’s an average of 3,300 deaths a day — essentially a 9/11 every day, plus an extra 300 deaths.
(The figures in this graph and the one below indicate seven-day averages to smooth out data reporting fluctuations.)
There’s some good news, in that the metrics above may be beginning to turn around. If we zoom in to just the period of the third surge, we see that new cases have dropped over the past three days and the positivity rate has been down for the past week. The number of hospitalizations and deaths have also dropped, if only slightly.
Even with these averages, there’s some fluctuation, so it’s premature to invest too much excitement in these reversals at this point. The number of cases sank around Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example, and it’s not clear whether what’s happening is a similar blip. But that hospitalizations in particular are down is reassuring; the last time before Wednesday that the number of people in the hospital declined was Sept. 23.
The problem is that so much of what is looming is already preordained. For all of the discussion about how treatment options for covid-19 patients have improved, there’s still been a consistent relationship between the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations and the number of deaths.
Since Sept. 12, the average number of deaths on a given day is equal to about 1.7 percent of new cases 25 days prior. It’s also equal to about 2.3 percent of hospitalizations 10 days prior.
In other words, if we are seeing an average of 234,000 new cases a day at this point, which we are, that suggests that we’ll see about 4,000 deaths per day on average in about three weeks. With 130,000 people hospitalized, we can expect about 3,000 deaths per day on average in 10 days.
These two metrics don’t line up exactly. The predicted toll based on the number of new cases tends to run ahead of the actual figure; the predicted toll based on hospitalizations tends to be lower.
Using those percentages, though, it’s clear that we’ll hit more than 400,000 deaths within days. By the end of January, we will likely see between 410,000 and 437,000 deaths.
These figures use estimates based on totals compiled by the Covid Tracking Project for consistency. The Washington Post’s own numbers have more than 390,000 recorded deaths already, meaning that it will only take two or three days before we pass the 400,000 mark.
By Wednesday, then, it seems likely that the country will see its 400,000th death from covid-19. The day President Trump leaves office, the United States may have seen at least 160,000 more deaths than he and his administration predicted would be the upper limit of deaths if the virus were effectively contained.