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Health Care

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue to Rise in the North and Decline in the South

Emergency Medical Technicians move a patient outside of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, N.Y., April 20, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I don’t want to beat a dead horse; it’s just that every week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updates its figures on how many Americans are in the hospital because of COVID-19, and for three straight weeks, states in the northern part of the country have seen increases – sometimes dramatic ones – in their hospitalization rate, while states in the southern part of the country have seen decreases. The numbers for the two-week period ending October 13:

Michigan
14-day change: 23 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 20

Minnesota
14-day change: 18 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 18

North Dakota
14-day change: 12 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 35

Pennsylvania
14-day change: 12 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 27

Montana
14-day change: 10 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 46

A handful of other states in the north

South Dakota
14-day change: 6 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 23

Wisconsin
14-day change: 4 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 22

Colorado
14-day change: 3 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 18

Utah
14-day change: 2 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 18

New Mexico
14-day change: 1 percent increase
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 17

Thankfully, every other state had their hospitalization rate stay flat or decrease. But take a look at the eight states with the most dramatic decreases in the past two weeks:

Georgia
14-day change: 32 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 28

Texas
14-day change: 32 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 26

Alabama
14-day change: 37 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 24

South Carolina
14-day change: 37 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 26

Mississippi
14-day change: 38 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 17

Hawaii
14-day change: 41 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 12

Florida
14-day change: 44 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 18

Louisiana
14-day change: 46 percent decrease
Hospitalizations per 100,000 people: 11

The trends aren’t entirely uniform; a handful of northern states also saw dramatic declines in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19; Rhode Island saw a 30 percent decrease and Maine saw a 31 percent decrease – and both of those states had low rates of hospitalizations per 100,000 people, in large part because of their high vaccination rates.

What does this tell us? That while vaccination rates are important, even having a small percentage of a state’s population unvaccinated can result in big burst of hospitalizations when the Delta variant passes through a region. And because human behavior is often weather-driven, spending more time indoors in bad weather or extreme temperatures and more time outdoors when the weather is good, hot summers, cold weather, and perhaps rainy weather are going to lead to the virus spreading more quickly. As the weather in the northern states gets cooler, with more rain or snow, residents will spend more time indoors – and likely spread COVID-19 more quickly. This isn’t automatically going to turn into more hospitalizations; vaccination is pretty darn good at preventing hospitalization. But we shouldn’t be surprised if this trend of higher hospitalizations in the north and fewer in the south continues — and this doesn’t mean that one part of the country is better or more moral than the other.

It is also worth keeping in mind that this list is measuring and ranking the states by the rate of change in the hospitalization rate, not the state’s hospitalization rate. This week Michigan ranks as having the worst or highest increase, but having 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 people is not nearly as bad as Montana having 46 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Texans can feel good about their state having 26 people in the hospital per 100,000 people this week, but the decline is partially because they had so much room to fall; two weeks ago the Lone Star state had 37 people in the hospital per 100,000 people.

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