Nationwide, the most stable indicator—the number of hospitalizations—is still rising, though not as quickly as it was from November through mid-December, thanks to declines in the Midwest. Focusing on hospitalizations is particularly useful right now because holidays, like weekends, depress the reporting of cases and deaths across the country, while sick people continue to enter the hospital as they would on any other day. So even though cases are down compared to last week in most states, with a similar trend in the seven-day average of daily deaths nationwide, that’s likely a data lag that won’t clear up until the first week or two of the new year.
And hospitalizations tell a more complex story. Over the seven days ending December 29, the measure fell in 28 states and the District of Columbia and rose in 21 states (it was unchanged in New Mexico); it fell by 10 percent or more in 10 states, suggesting a substantial change in the state’s conditions, and rose by 10 percent or more in 12.
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California is one of the five states—along with Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas—that account for 40 percent of new cases from December 17 to December 23, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Of the five, California has by far the highest number of hospitalizations, which beyond their general stress on the health-care system augur high death tolls to come. California had 21,240 people in hospitals on December 29, accounting for 17 percent of all hospitalizations nationwide. Twice as many Californians were hospitalized on December 29 as on December 6. Texas is also seeing a rise in hospitalizations—it had 11,775 on December 29—but its numbers are only up by about 2,800 since the first week of December.
Hospitalizations are also up in Arizona. Its hospitalization rate, at 615 people per million, is higher than California’s 538 per million. Arizona has now surpassed its devastating summer surge; while 3,517 people were hospitalized on July 14, that number was 4,475 on December 29. Nevada, whose population is centered in Las Vegas between the hotspots of Arizona and Southern California, has the highest hospitalization rate in the country, at 626 per million.
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Just behind Nevada and Arizona in hospitalizations per million is Alabama. During its summer surge in early August, Alabama had about 1,500 hospitalized COVID-19 patients per day; it now has 2,804. The state’s seven-day average of deaths (which, because of the problems with holiday reporting, is quite volatile) has also recently been higher than in the summer. On December 23, the state reported 135 deaths, more than double the peak of 61 it suffered on July 27, and reported another 89 deaths on December 24. Hospitalizations are also up in neighboring Georgia, which reached a new record of 4,839 on December 29, one-third higher than its previous July peak.