Every State's COVID Numbers In Context, December 2021
Things are moving quickly, but the best tactic is to wait until January to see how the case surges play out
This month’s edition is coming at a particularly volatile time for COVID data. The data in the charts below runs up to December 23rd. I did this intentionally because we know that major holidays play havoc with reporting agencies and 7-day averages. My hope was to get the cleanest version of the data before Christmas and then punt on the messy stuff until next month.
December 2021 Animated COVID County Map (warning: it loads slowly b/c it’s a big visualization)
Unfortunately, the COVID data for the week before Christmas is still pretty wild. We can see that we were already well into a winter surge when we suddenly started seeing extreme spikes in COVID cases in several regions. In particular, the northeast, a few states in the south, and Hawaii all have similar sudden-spike patterns.
The case data since Christmas has been pretty sharp as well and I considered adding it to this month’s assessment. But it would be incredibly difficult to tease out a genuine spike in cases from a spike associated with a standard holiday backlog, so I’m leaving that for January.
There is some speculation that these spikes are related to Omicron. This could be true or these could just be late seasonal spikes, though they are remarkably sharp. We’ll know more next month.
As a rule, we’re seeing much of the same seasonal patterns this year as we saw last year, but about 4-6 weeks later. I’ve marked the charts with where we were at this time last year and you can see that, across the country, the 2020 winter surges started in late October and November (California’s big surge didn’t start until mid-December last year). We are seeing very similar patterns this year, just shifted over a few weeks.
Midwest (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
Mountain States (Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming)
Northeast (Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania)
Southern Border (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas)
Mid-South (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
Plains States (Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota)
West Coast (Washington, Oregon, California)
Upper Northeast + Alaska & Hawaii (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Alaska, Hawaii)
The case data here is pretty messy, so I’ll try to tease it out. The spike in the midwest in the last few weeks has been confined to a few states (Illinois, Ohio, maybe Indiana). Most of the other states have already had a pretty big case spike and are in a decline or plateau.
Deaths in the midwest are up, but (with the exception of Michigan, which has just had a hell of a time with this pandemic) they are not yet to the levels they hit last year. I very much suspect we’ll see higher death rates in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois this time next month.
The mountain states are a fairly pleasant surprise for now. Cases are down, deaths from the states hardest hit this fall are down. We have fairly low plateaus of cases and deaths in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.
We can see a little hint of an uptick in cases in the week before Christmas, but it’s not a strong enough signal to guess a trajectory from.
Hoo boy, this is the tough one. That spike in DC is wild. It’s so sharp, it makes me suspect some kind of reporting problem. The 7-day average of cases went from 30 per 100K residents to 180 per 100K residents in 8 days. Something smells weird about that. I want to hold off on making any assessment or prediction of what is happening there until we get another week or two of data to give us a more smoothed-out picture.
We see less severe spikes in most states in the northeast, which makes me think the overall spike isn’t a reporting problem.
If this is an Omicron-related spike, we should very much hope that the reported mild-ness of Omicron keeps hospitalizations and deaths to a minimum. We’re still within 4 weeks of the beginning of this surge and we should know a lot more about the impact of these cases on deaths in January. So far, only Pennsylvania has seen a big surge in deaths this time around.
In the southern border states, we’re seeing a slow increase from the COVID nadir last month. We see a sharp increase in Florida in just the last week, which, if this spike is durable, almost certainly has a cause similar to the northeastern states.
The southwest is getting hit pretty hard right now. Though Arizona and New Mexico are both seeing cases on the decline, the death rates seem to be catching up. It’s too early to tell if the spike in deaths in New Mexico is a reporting backlog or a view on the ground, but we’ll be able to see next month which one it is.
Like Florida, we can see hints of a possible sudden COVID spike in Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia, and all the same caveats apply. We are seeing more sustained surges in Kentucky and West Virginia, and the cases have been high enough for long enough that we can see their elevated death rates.
The rest of the mid-South is in a bit of a wait-and-see mode. Relatively low cases and low deaths are good, but they were not immune from a winter surge last year and I suspect they will not be this year either.
The Plains states have also been a fairly nice surprise this year. They got hit incredibly hard last fall and winter but have not repeated that pattern. There was a modest surge, worst in Montana and North Dakota and, while cases are plateauing higher than we might like, we’re not seeing anything like the spikes we saw last year.
I could not for the life of me tell you why, after Oregon and Washington have been moving together almost perfect in COVID patterns since the beginning of the pandemic, Oregon is suddenly seeing a higher death rate than Washington. I am at a loss about what has happened to cause this.
I suspect that the small upswing of COVID cases in the west in the last 2 weeks is the beginning of the winter surge in those states. Last year, California was seeing pretty low COVID numbers until, very suddenly, they were not. I don’t know if they will diverge from Washington and Oregon this year as they did last year, but I do suspect that, given the timing, we are seeing the beginning of a winter surge on the west coast.
Upper Northeast + Alaska & Hawaii
The upper northeast is seeing their worst COVID surge by far right now. Cases are high for that region, which managed to keep COVID positives quite low through most of the pandemic. Hospitalizations in that area are also reaching regional highs and I suspect we’ll see deaths (which are already fairly elevated) surge in January.
It should be remembered that this is high *for this region* but not high compared to most of the other states. The surge in New Hampshire does not yet look like the recent surges in Idaho or Tennessee and deaths remain fairly low. Even so, this is by far the biggest surge the upper northeast has yet seen.
The other point of note is that Hawaii is seeing a spike similar to Florida and the northeast. I suspect all those states will follow similar patterns in the next few weeks.
I thought I was being all smart, grabbing data before the Christmas holiday data hiccup, but things are moving quite fast with all the COVID data in December. I suspect that by January we’ll have a much better sense of how the cases in this surge relate to deaths (will it be better with higher vaccination rates?) and by February we should have a good sense of how Omicron cases are impacting spread and case severity. We can make guesses at these answers, but nothing compares to simply measuring the results out in the real world.
Disney Shorts: Truant Officer Donald (1941)
A friend of mine from Washington recently got a note from her daughter’s school that her daughter had missed 3 days of school in the first half of this school year. This friend marveled at the gall for a school that had cancelled in-person classes for an entire year to shift so quickly into truancy policing.
I decided it was time for this delightful short which sets Donald as truant offices against his school-skipping nephews. This is one of the excellent shorts in terms of animation, timing, gags, and story. Donald catches his nephews at the local swimming hold and rounds them up into a paddywagon to drag them to school. They cleverly escape (in a fantastic visual gag) and retreat to their clubhouse. Donald decides to smoke them out, at which point they place the chickens they had roasting over the fire into their beds with their hats on. It had never before occurred to me that this gag works because they are ducks, but then I’m suddenly horrified by the fact that ducks are roasting chickens for dinner.
In any case, it’s a great short. It’s well paced, has good conflict, excellent jokes, and a quality ending. It’s an excellent example of the best of early Donald.