The good news we’re seeing at the national level continues to reflect the reality of most U.S. states as well. Ten states saw drops of more than 25 percent in new cases in the past week, based on the seven-day averages for January 27 and February 3. In another 32 states, new cases declined by at least 10 percent, and only a single state—Texas—posted a double-digit increase in the same period.
These case declines are very welcome, but are taking place against a backdrop of very high viral transmission. Despite the past three weeks of precipitous drops, U.S. cases are still about three times higher than the previous lows following the summer’s Sun Belt surge—and even during those lows, the United States was still reporting an average of more than 30,000 cases a day.
Improvements continue in COVID-19 hospitalizations as well. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen hospitalization declines ranging from 33 to 44 percent in the Midwest, the West, and one part of the South—the East South Central subregional division, which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The populous nine-state South Atlantic division has posted both the highest peak—in absolute numbers, not adjusted for population—and the smallest decline, at 14 percent.
Death reporting is extremely sensitive to holiday reporting delays—we saw substantial drops and recoveries in the seven-day average after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now, however, reported deaths appear to have entered a genuine decline, reflecting the drop in cases and hospitalizations.
Cases and deaths in American nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities appeared to spike in our most recent week of data for these facilities, which runs January 22 through January 28—about a week behind our main data set. This rise is an artifact of a reporting anomaly, however, due to Missouri’s release of cumulative long-term-care data, for which the state provided no historical time series. If we omit all 10,343 of Missouri’s cumulative cases and 1,087 cumulative deaths from last week’s data, we can see that the number of new cases and deaths associated with LTC outbreaks actually decreased slightly over the previous week.
The race and ethnicity data we collect from states also show improving trends set against ongoing inequities. As we found in a recent analysis, in most states, the racial and ethnic groups at higher risk of contracting or dying of COVID-19 have not changed, although the relative risk is lower than it was earlier in the pandemic. New cases per capita are declining across most communities we’re able to track, but disparities in the groups mostly likely to test positive—which in most U.S. states are Black, Latino, and Indigenous people—have not gone away. We have yet to see comprehensive action directed at addressing disparities in risk or outcomes in the United States. Available vaccine data are still missing important demographic information, but the data we do have show substantial inequities in the rollout so far.