Post #1365: COVID-19 trend to 12/22/2021: Think of it as hyper-contagious flu.

Posted on December 23, 2021


The bottom line is this:  There were a lot of new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed yesterday.   But you probably already knew that.  What’s more newsworthy is that there aren’t a lot of new hospitalizations.  Not anywhere you look.  Consistent with the best available research at this time.  And, while it’s too soon to count the deaths, it’s a good guess there won’t be many deaths, either.  As I see it, with Omicron, our winter wave of COVID has morphed into something akin to an unbelievably bad flu season.  Lot of people sick.  Lot of work time lost, events cancelled, business closed, and other economic losses.  But not a lot of severe illness or deaths, per infection.

Despite Omicron’s lower case severity compared to prior strains, it remains a really good time to do what you can to avoid exposure.  Because nobody wants to be sick.  But the odds of getting extremely sick, if infected, seem to be vastly lower under Omicron than under the prior strains.

See Post #1364 if you want the straight-up crude comparison between Omicron and flu, in terms case hospitalization rates.  The big difference now is that Omicron spreads ten times faster than flu.  (Literally:  R-nought is about 1.25 for seasonal flu, but between 10 and 15 for Omicron).

Tomorrow will likely be the last day we get any clear data on what’s happening in the U.S.  Not only are states shutting down reporting for the holiday’s, even the CDC’s COVID data tracker website won’t update tomorrow.  So after this, everything will be guesswork until after 1/1/2022

As has been my practice for the past few days, I’d like to offer a few calming thoughts before discussing today’s trend data. Let me do that by focusing on the worst U.S. states.

What the heck is “calming” about about focusing on the hardest-hit states?  Well, for one, you can be glad you’re not there.  But more to the point, they provide a great illustration of what you’re not reading in the news, despite the incredibly rapid growth in cases.  You’re reading about the huge increase in cases.  But you aren’t reading about overflowing hospitals and morgues.  And that’s a good thing, as these things go.

Worst in the nation today:  Washington DC, 166 new COVID-19 cases / 100K / day, seven-day moving average.

Source:  New York Times.

Omicron appears to be hitting metropolitan areas first, and spreading from there.  That follows prior waves of new variants.  They enter the U.S. via international travel from already-infected areas.  And so appear first and in greatest number in places with lots of international travel.

The worst hit area, so far, by far, appears to be Washington DC.  That’s depicted above, via the New York Times.  As you can see, the daily new COVID-19 cases shatter all prior records for the city.  They are very nearly as high as have been observed in any state over the entire pandemic.

That’s so nearly vertical that I would normally think it was a data error, but there’s Maryland right alongside it.  And about half the population of Maryland lives in the DC Metro area.

That’s what you’ll see reported.  But as important is what you’re not seeing:  Reports of overflowing hospitals.  And you aren’t seeing that because it’s not happening.

I downloaded DC’s data from their dashboard.  They track “patients in hospital”, which is the number of persons who are inpatients, and have COVID-19.  They don’t appear to track daily new admission to the hospital, for COVID-19.  Here’s the picture of last year’s winter wave, and the Omicron wave:

Source:  Calculated from Washington DC COVID-19 dashboard, accessed 12/23/2021.

In Washington DC, for the past seven days, the count of persons:

  • diagnosed with COVID grew about 1000 per day.
  • in the hospital with COVID grew about 7 per day.

That’s probably a slight understatement of the seriousness of the situation.  Plausibly, some of the persons just diagnosed were not sent immediately to the hospital, but will show up in a few days.

But I think that’s the gist of it.  At the Delta hospitalization rate, the current rash of Omicron cases would have been an unprecedented public health disaster.  By contrast, at the Omicron hospitalization rate, it’s not even close to maxing out hospital resources.

Second worst state:  Rhode Island:  125 new cases / 100K / day.

Unlike DC, Rhode Island had been in the grip of a serious Delta winter wave before Omicron came on the scene.  Accordingly, what you see in their data is a blending of rates, as Omicron displaces Delta.

And, as Omicron displaces Delta, despite rising new case counts, the number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island hospitals has started to fall:

Source:  Rhode Island Department of Health

If you wanted to be contrary, you could point to the short timeframe of the decline.  It could be a blip.  But Omicron has only really taken off in the U.S. in the past week.  So that short timeframe is about right.

Honorable mention:  New York City

New York state is third in the nation, with 110 new COVID-19 cases per 100K per day.  And, much like DC, it wasn’t having much of a Delta wave prior to the onset of Omicron.

But the center of the wave in New York is New York City.  Let’s look there.

By now you know the drill.  Below is a graph of new cases, followed by a graph of new hospitalizations for COVID-19.  The hospitalization data are incomplete.  And it’s a short timeframe.  But when you see the same thing time and again, it’s probably real, and not an error in the data.

Source:  Government of New York City.

U.S. trend to 12/22/2021

Data source for this and other graphs of new case counts:  Calculated from The New York Times. (2021). Coronavirus (Covid-19) Data in the United States. Retrieved 12/23/2021, from”  The NY Times U.S. tracking page may be found at

The rate of U.S. new COVID-19 cases / 100K / day is now up 37% since the start of the Omicron wave on 12/27/2021. 

If we go back to the pre-Thanksgiving basline, cases are rising at an average rate of 16 percent per week.

As I stated in a just-prior post, it makes no sense to compare the simple count of Omicron cases to Delta cases.  It’s like comparing a count of $5 bills and $1 bills, without noting that the $5 bills matter a lot more.

But it’s what everybody does.  And all the better information — hospitalizations, deaths, and possibly some other indicators of morbidity — all arrive with some time lag.  So I’m counting cases, along with everybody else.  Even though it makes no sense.