While many have been focused on the apparent explosion of COVID cases in China, and the lack of reliable data from China’s government, there are signs suggesting the U.S. situation is also getting worse even as case counts and deaths are falling.
At first look, initial fears of another COVID surge in the U.S. over the holidays may be overblown. About a week after the year-end holiday gatherings began, the seven-day average of new COVID cases fell to a more than three-week low of 58,354 on Thursday, down 9% from two weeks ago and down 17% from a recent peak of 70,508 on Christmas Eve, according to a New York Times tracker.
And the daily average for deaths fell has fallen to a three-week low of 355, and has dropped 5% in two weeks.
But as the NYT tracker has been warning, case and death counts could be “artificially low” this week, as officials who track those numbers take vacation for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Therefore, hospitalization data, which is typically not affected by holidays, should remain more reliable.
And by that measure, the numbers are getting worrisome.
The daily average of hospitalizations rose to 41,620 on Thursday, up 3% from two weeks ago but also the highest number seen since mid-August.
There are 29 states that have seen hospitalizations increase from two weeks ago, including 20 states that have seen double-digit percentage increases, led by South Carolina at 54%, West Virginia at 52% and Louisiana at 47%.
The number of severe COVID cases is also seeing a troubling rise, the daily average of COVID-related patients in intensive care units (ICUs) climbed to 5,080 on Thursday. That’s up 10% from two weeks ago, and the most seen since July 30.
Another sign that the fall in case counts is artificial is that the test positivity rate has been rising, to a four-month high above 14% on Thursday, with 41 states seeing double-digit positivity rates.
“Higher test positivity rates are a sign that many infections are not reported — even if they are tested at home. This results in a more severe undercount of cases,” the NYT tracker said.
Stay up to date on COVID news through MarketWatch’s daily “Coronavirus Update” column.
Meanwhile in China, amid a “lack of adequate and transparent” data from China’s government, there is reason to believe the situation will still get a lot worse before it gets better.
U.K. health firm Airfinity estimates that new daily COVID cases in China is currently running at about 1.8 million, based on data from China’s regional provinces, and on new-case trajectories from areas that also lifted zero-COVID policies, such as Hong Kong.
That case number is expected to more than double, to about 3.7 million a day, in mid-January, Airfinity estimates, before another surge in March takes the number up to about 4.2 million per day.
As a result of the concerns over surging case counts, Spain joined the growing number of countries that are requiring COVID tests for air passengers arriving from China, as the Associated Press reported. This comes after the European Union said Thursday that it is “assessing” the situation in China.
The U.S. will also require those arriving from China to take a PCR test, starting Jan. 5, while Japan started requiring a test on Friday. Other countries requiring a test for air passengers from China include Italy, India and South Korea.
In other COVID news, China’s National Medical Products Administration has given emergency approval to Merck & Co. Inc.’s
COVID antiviral molnupiravir. That joins Pfizer Inc.’s
Paxlovid, which has already been approved for use in China. Merck’s stock, which fell 0.5% in midday trading Friday, has soared 43.9% in 2022, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average
has lost 9.3%.
said Friday that it has initiated a Phase 2 trial for its COVID-19-Influenza Combination (CIC) vaccine candidate in people aged 50 through 80. “We believe that like influenza, COVID-19 will also be seasonal moving forward, and that there is room in the market for new alternatives to provide better protection against the impact of influenza, particularly in older adults, and to explore the potential to combine this with protection from COVID,” said Chief Executive Stanley Erck. Novavax’s stock rose 1.0% Friday, but has plunged 93.1% year to date while the S&P 500 index
has dropped 19.9%.