March 1, 2021 – Warmer temperatures and less snowfall blessed most of the country last week; however, the consequences of the prior week’s weather were still evident. Widespread snowstorms disrupted vaccine distribution, resulting in shortages and fewer jabs through mid-week. These storms and the Texas deep freeze also limited testing and new case reporting for several days. By the end of the week, however, the outlook on vaccines and infection rates improved.
Vaccinations and Immunity
Through Friday, fewer Americans were jabbed last week than a week earlier, the second straight week of declining vaccinations. The weather delivered a double-whammy on the vaccination effort: first, by preventing people from visiting vaccination sites during the snowstorms and power outages; and second by wreaking havoc on vaccine distribution logistics. Most sites ran out of vaccines far faster than during earlier weeks.
However, the outlook brightened by the end of the week and looks even better for the coming weeks: The U.S. shipped an additional 21 million doses to the states in the past five days, allowing 8.8 million vaccinations in the past four days. Second, the head of UPS predicted vaccine shipments would increase by 40% this week.
Most importantly, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend, giving the U.S. three approved vaccines for protecting us from the virus.
As of Sunday, nearly 20% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; nearly 10% received both doses. More than one-third (34 to 38%) of Americans have immunity from COVID-19, based on vaccinations to-date, vaccine efficacy, estimated prior infections, and the presumed 14-day lag from injection or infection to immunity.
Healthcare Resource Use and Deaths With Coronavirus
Since the pandemic began, two public health goals informed our response to COVID-19: protecting the health care system’s viability and limiting the virus’s most severe consequences — hospitalization and death. The health care system faced an existential crisis in April 2020, when COVID-19 inpatients outnumbered available hospital beds in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. A similar problem threatened us in the Fall and early Winter, when hospitals in Arizona, California, and Utah were overwhelmed with COVID -19 patients.
However, since early-January, the COVID-19 census has dropped with each new day — 46 straight days of declining COVID-19 patients. Yesterday, COVID-19 patients occupied fewer than 16% of all inpatient beds, compared to 40% throughout the first half of January. Only 0.6% of known, active COVID-19 infected persons required hospital care last week, the lowest rate ever. This rate exceeded 3% early in the pandemic.
COVID-19 patients in the ICU and on ventilators declined this past week, continuing patterns that began six and seven weeks ago, respectively. Both measures have dropped by more than half during this time.
Deaths with coronavirus dropped to a level not seen since Thanksgiving week. The death toll declined for the seventh straight week, dropping 40% during this time.
Tests and Detected Cases
Test volume declined for the sixth straight week, although it stabilized late in the week. Nonetheless, test-positivity outperformed the WHO target for the second straight week. This rate fell to 4.1% on both Thursday and Friday and 4.3% on Saturday.
Test-efficiency: the number of tests needed to detect a new case — held steady week-over-week, at a relatively healthy 19.5:1. This rate had sunk to 7.3:1 in early January.
Newly detected cases seemed to stabilize early last week, following weeks of steady decline. Although this raised concerns that progress against the virus was stalling, it was at least partially due to the earlier winter storms and power outages that caused delays in test reporting, especially in Texas. Case rates began dropping again on Friday and Saturday and are now 70% lower than the early-January peak.
Mark A. Van Sumeren, strategic advisor, Medical Devices & Integrated Delivery Networks
Health Industry Advisor LLC, provides a regular report on COVID-19 numbers for the health care industry.