The nation is experiencing a COVID-19 tsunami. Yet, people’s behavior suggests that no one is noticing. Are the surge and the behavior related?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides weekly updates on every county’s COVID-19 status. As of July 14, over 75 percent of counties are at the medium or high levels. Given how these levels are defined, this means that COVID-19 hospital admissions in these counties are sufficient to impact hospital bed availability.
With more people using at-home tests, case counts have become a meaningless measure for assessing COVID-19 community risk, since positive test results rarely get reported to public health agencies. Hospitalizations, both new COVID-19 admissions and current occupancy, provide the most informative risk metrics.
New COVID-19 hospital admissions continue to increase, with the BA.5 omicron subvariant gaining a foothold in the population and its contagiousness driving widespread infection spread.
The majority of Americans appear unfazed by the current risk environment.
Restaurants and entertainment venues continue to enjoy robust activity and the travel industry is enjoying a returning vibrance. Air travel continues to be robust, as measured by the daily number of people the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are screening at airport security checkpoints, which has consistently been over 2 million travelers since early June. Given that seat capacity is just below those levels available in 2019, air travel has essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels.
In the spring of 2021, one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, people were asking what the new normal would look like. We can now answer this question.
The new normal is an ongoing stream of new variants and subvariants, each with their own set of characteristics and risks. The ebb and flow of infections will continue. The much hoped for environment that prior infections would be protective has not panned out. The vaccines, including boosters, have continued to provide a fortress of protection against severe disease, albeit weakening over time. Treatments like Paxlovid are invaluable despite limitations such as drug interactions.
The good news so far is that deaths have not surged in lockstep with infections, though at around 300 per day, they are not negligible. The not-so-good news is that hospitalization …