Let’s run through some questions and answers to parse out where we are with the virus and where we may be headed…
1) Is the prevalence of the virus rising or falling?
In the US as a whole, it is rising.
We are now past the data interruptions from Thanksgiving and new cases continue to hit new highs, averaging 196,923 per day over the past week.
Regionally, new cases are at new highs in the Northeast, South, and West while the Midwest is showing some signs of improvement.
Here’s a per capita breakdown of new cases by State…
2) Are new cases rising only because we are testing more?
No. They are rising because more people are getting the virus.
We know this this is true for a number of reasons:
a) Percent Positive: the percentage of positive tests is rising, currently at 10.5%. If more testing was the sole reason for more cases we would see the percentage of positive tests stay flat or move down with more testing.
Instead, 10.5% is the highest percentage positive we’ve seen in the US since May 6.
b) Hospitalizations in the US continue to hit new highs (102,148), up 6% in the past week and 83% in the past month.
Looking at the breakdown by region, we see the South and West at new hospitalization highs and the Northeast moving sharply higher. The Midwest peaked on December 1 and has moved down slightly over the last week.
Most states (34) are seeing rising hospitalizations over the last 2 weeks…
Here are the hospitalization trends in the most populous US States…
c) Deaths in the US average 2,204 per day in the last week, a new high and now above the April peak (2,067).
Deaths are rising in all US regions with the Midwest, South, and West currently seeing highest number of daily deaths since the start of the pandemic.
3) Can we adjust case levels over time for changes in testing rates in order to get a more accurate picture of the prevalence of the virus over time?
This is not an easy endeavor but I’ve attempted to do so with a simple methodology in the chart below. What it shows is that covid-19 is likely at its most widespread level today in the US as a whole, higher than it was at the peak back in April.
4) What impact will Thanksgiving have on the virus?
It is still too early to understand the full impact, but given what we know about the virus and how easily it can spread, we are likely to see an increase (it was the busiest travel week since March with many household gatherings).
Before Thanksgiving, the US was lagging the trend in Europe during the current wave by about a month. With many countries in Europe trending lower few a few weeks, we may have seen a peak in the virus around now.
With Thanksgiving, this trajectory may be pushed out, but hopefully we won’t see another spike higher in the coming weeks.
5) What impact will the vaccines have on the virus?
But it will take some time for the vaccines to be approved and distributed.
The chief scientific advisor for Operation Warp Speed (Moncef Slauoui) said the following…
“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval, so I would expect maybe on day two after approval on the 11th or the 12th of December.” – Moncef Slauoui
Slauoui believes that “about 20 million people” in the US could be immunized in the month of December.
The vaccines require 2 doses (3 weeks apart for Pfizer, 4 weeks apart for Moderna) to be fully effective.
The UK started to give out the Pfizer vaccine today, the first country to start a mass inoculation campaign (see here).
6) Who will receive the vaccine first?
The CDC is recommending the following prioritization for distribution in phase 1:
The very first to get the vaccine will be the groups most at risk, including heath care personnel and Long-Term care facility residents.
The sooner we vaccinate those in long-term care facilities, the more lives we will save, as 40% of the recorded deaths in the US have come from these facilities.
7) When will herd immunity be achieved?
That will depend on many factors, including the speed of manufacturing, distribution, and the willingness of Americans to take a vaccine.
But Slaoui estimates that 70% of the population could be immunized somewhere in the month of May 2021.
A few months ago, that projection would have seemed impossible. But through human grit and ingenuity, we have seen a modern-day miracle.
There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a bright at that. But the virus is not over yet (as the charts above illustrate) and we must all do our best to protect the most vulnerable in the coming weeks and months as we approach herd immunity.
To sign up for our free newsletter, click here.
Disclaimer: All information provided is for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment, legal or tax advice, or an offer to buy or sell any security. For our full disclosures, click here.