Post #923: Just two states have out-of-control COVID-19 new infection rates

Posted on December 21, 2020

Sometimes I read newspaper coverage of the pandemic and I wonder if I’m living on the same planet as the reporters.

Yesterday it was a NY Times article on the post-Thanksgiving surge.  There, amidst the waffling, and the “it’s complicated”, the one-hand-other-hand reporting, and the anecdotes, nobody would just plainly say what is obviously true:  There was no post-Thanksgiving surge.  Just use your eyes, below.

Today it’s a Washington Post gloom-and-doom article, where they continue the post-Thanksgiving surge meme, again without reference to any analysis to back that up.

I really have to wonder if anybody at these organizations ever bothers to plot the data.  And look at it.  Or maybe it’s just the constant focus on areas where there are problems, and silence about areas that aren’t in trouble.

But here’s my take on it, starting from best to worst.  To cut to the chase:

  • The third wave of COVID has already crested much of the country.
  • The big unknown is the South, where there is neither a clear increase nor a clear decease in new cases.
  • COVID-19 is out of control in just two states:  CA and TN.

1:  The US third wave appears to have peaked in the entire Midwest. 

Most states peaked around mid-November.  Ohio was the last holdout.  But …. well, just use your eyes.  Can’t say they are out of the woods, but I can say that things appear to be getting better there.

For both the second and third waves of COVID, most states show a surprising amount of symmetry between rise and fall.  The overall peak itself looks lopsided, because states phase in over time.  Thus it appears to have a long right “tail”.  But if you look at individual states, by and large, the rate at which cases increased is pretty much the same as the rate at which they decreased.  So that, e.g., the time it takes them to go from one-third of peak to peak rate is roughly the same as the time it takes them to go from peak rate back down to a third of peak rate.

The faster they rose, the faster they fell.  And as the wave ebbs, the state that had the highest peak rate (ND) now has one of the lowest rates.

2:  This third wave has probably peaked in the Mountain region as well.

Not as clear cut, but that’s how I read these graphs.  Every state’s rate is now headed downward.  But even as these states are more spread out, North-to-South, the peak is also less defined.  The northernmost (WY, and just under it MT) were in synch with the Midwest.  And generally, as you move south, the peak occurs later.

Note that WY plays the exact same role here that ND played in the Midwest.  It rose fastest and highest, it fell fastest, and it now has the lowest new-case rate in the regions.   The repetition of that pattern against suggests something intrinsic to the dynamics of the pandemic, and not simply coincidence.

3:  Arguably, much of New England and the Mid-Atlantic may have peaked.

It’s a little too soon to say, and the peaks are not as dramatic as elsewhere, but there seems to be synchronous peaks for most of the states, round 12/10/2020 or so.  Vermont and Maine are doing their own thing, at the bottom of the graph.  New York isn’t quite clear.  But for the rest, it sure looks like a broad shallow peak is starting to form.

4:  The northern Pacific coast is stable, only Southern California is out-of-control.

Alaska has peaked, Hawaii is off doing its own thing, and only California is out-of-control.  And there, population-weighted, it’s really only Southern California.

Source:  NY Times.

My argument remains that this is largely the result of a very dry November and a heavily Latino population.




5:  The South remains in doubt, TN is weirdly out-of-control.

And so, if you take what’s left of the U.S.A. — the South, starting from Delaware and going all the way through Texas — it all looks more-or-less the same.  New cases rates are moderately high, but stable, in most states.  With the wild exception of Tennessee.

The situation in Tennessee is odd for many, many reasons.  But what’s most odd about it is that COVID-19 appears to be strongly respecting the state border.  I can’t figure out what could plausibly cause that.  Might be more comprehensive testing in that state.  Might be something to do with state policies or the lack thereof.  Might be that boundary rivers prevent travel across state lines.  No clue.  But the TN political border clearly stands out on the most recent NY Time COVID-19 map.

Source:  NY Times, downloaded 12/21/2020.

And so, to me, the big question is what will happen to the South Atlantic and South Central regions.  As the weather continues to get colder, will they go the way of the Midwest, with extremely high peak rates of new cases?  Or will they go the way that New England appears to be going, with what appears to be a set of much shallower peaks?


In the US, at present:

  • The third wave of COVID appears to have crested in the Midwest and Mountain states.
  • The third wave may have crested, somewhat later, in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
  • The northern Pacific coast is seeing stable rates of new cases per day.
  • For most of the South, it’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen next.
  • COVID-19 is out-of-control in just two states:  CA and TN.

Depending on what happens in CA, TN, and the South, it’s plausible the US has seen its overall peak for this wave.  But we will only know that in hindsight.