September 7 coronavirus scoreboard: slow decline to endemicity continues

– by a New Deal Democrat

I promised a COVID update, so I guess I should deliver.

Let’s start today with a timeline of South Africa’s cases and deaths over the past year:

South Africa is where BA.1 and BA.4&5 originated. You can see the huge spike in cases last December from the original Omicron and the smaller spike this June from BA.4&5. And yet deaths never peaked from the Delta in the summer of 2021.

More importantly, both cases and deaths are now as low as they have been in the past month, even lower than at any time since the pandemic began more than 2 years ago.

I think this is a foretaste of what the future of COVID is likely to be.

Here is the same information for the US for the last 6 months:

Neither cases nor deaths even came close during waves BA.2.12.1 or BA.4&5 to their peak from the original Omicron last winter (or, in the case of deaths, to their peak during Delta).

And with no new variant showing signs of an outbreak, cases are down more than 40% from their last peak in July. Deaths, which except for June and July 2021 have always been above 1000/day, have not significantly exceeded 500/day in the past 4 1/2 months.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations are also down nearly 25% from the peak in July:

Most notably, this occurs despite the near-total abandonment of both state and individual mitigation measures. As shown in the graph below, the percentage of people who were fully vaccinated has effectively stalled at just over 67% since last winter:

Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases continues to rise to nearly 30% of the total population. Since we know that 1/2 or more of cases are asymptomatic, so these people probably won’t bother to get tested, it’s likely that over 60% of the entire US population has been infected at some point.

Indeed, a few months ago a study of serological prevalence (a blood test showing a reaction to COVID) showed that almost 80% of school-aged children had been infected at one time or another:

We also know that since home tests were widely available in January, many people with symptoms haven’t bothered to get tested “officially” either. Biobot’s sewage data shows that since then about 2/3 of all cases are probably not officially confirmed.

Speaking of which, here’s their latest regional update:

After a 45% drop nationally, cases increased slightly in the past week, mainly in the south and northeast of the country. This may simply be an anomaly due to incomplete data, or it may portend something else. Since there is no indication that any variant, including BA.4.6, is able to beat BA.5, I assume this is an anomaly.

With vaccinations and advances in treatment—and also the fact that much of the U.S. population is no longer “immunologically naïve” through vaccination, infection, or both—only about 1 in 750 cases now result in death, with those skewed toward the unvaccinated and the elderly. I suspect we’ll continue to see slow declines until the cold weather sets in or else some new, even more competitive option emerges.

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