The Corner

Coronavirus Update

COVID-19 Update: As Surges Slow, Death Rises

Workers greet motorists as they line up at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Leesburg, Va., May 20, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In my last COVID-19 update, I looked closely at these surges as they peaked. Now, as peaks come down, it’s well worth looking at the collateral damage and the overall state of the nation.

A Snapshot of the Nation

The devastating peaks in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas are on the decline. Some of the states hit the hardest early on — New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — have not yet seen a significant second wave, despite gradual reopenings.

However, daily deaths have noticeably increased in California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Deaths per capita are on the rise as well, especially in Arizona, growing steeper after the peak in cases around mid-July.

A Closer Look at Death Rates

Despite rising death rates in post-surge states, California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas have maintained lower overall deaths per positive cases throughout the pandemic than New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. The national proportion of deaths to cases has also fallen dramatically, signaling a major change in the fatality of the disease.

This could be the result of a variety of factors. There has been real progress. Doctors are better equipped to treat the virus. With the use of treatments such as dexamethasone and remdesivir or techniques such as turning a patient on their stomach, health-care providers are more effective now at decreasing COVID-related fatalities. These newer treatments may explain the lower death rates in states the virus reached later than the likes of New York.

But other reasons for this drop are merely statistical. For instance, testing is on the rise, detecting more innocuous cases than before.

And lifestyle changes could explain the lower death rate. Young people are congregating in groups again, driving the age of infected patients down. In Florida, for example, the median age of COVID-19 patients dropped from 65 to 35 from March to June. In states such as Texas, where reopenings are well underway, younger people make up the majority of patients, often spreading the virus in bars or at gatherings. According to Texas governor Greg Abbott, “There are certain counties where a majority of the people who are tested positive in that county are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bars.”

Younger patients are far less likely to suffer fatalities from coronavirus. However, as more younger people get infected, they raise the risk of spreading the virus to more vulnerable citizens.

Lagging Death

Though the case surges in California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas have vastly decelerated, deaths have increased, presumably due to the lag in symptom onset after infection. My last update looked at case peaks in July, noting the lack of spike in deaths. Now, however, Americans are experiencing the consequence of case spikes: The curve for deaths per positive case in California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas is rising.

Accordingly, new deaths per current hospitalization have ticked up from July into August. This is consistent with the pattern described above: Though cases peaked in July, the peak of fatalities and cases necessitating hospitalization occurred two to three weeks after the positive-case peak (the massive spike in late June may owe to New Jersey’s late reporting of backlogged cases). Thankfully, the rate at which deaths per cases are increasing is nowhere close to rates seen back in March and April.

Looking Forward

In a Fox and Friends interview yesterday, the president said: “Much of the country is in really good shape. . . . We’re set to rock ‘n’ roll.” The data say otherwise. In July, states such as California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida experienced massive case spikes, further driving the United States’ disappointing per capita outcomes and giving credence to critics of the administration’s response.

Though the death rate is lower than its early peak, cases keep piling up while the death rate slowly rises. We aren’t seeing the catastrophic surges of March and April, but COVID-19 is certainly sticking around.

Carine Hajjar is an editorial intern at National Review and a student at Harvard University studying government, data science, and economics.

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