Weekly COVID-19 Round-up - 3/24/22
River City Data No. 72
Today is my second anniversary with COVID-19 data work. Two years ago today, I sent my first tweet with some rather hastily produced line plots and a map of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
As I recently explained to St. Louis Magazine's Amanda Woytus, my goal was to give folks context about how the pandemic unfolded. I wanted folks to understand the per capita case rates around them and focus on those instead of cases. I also wanted to draw together data from across Missouri's different regions. I don’t think I imagined that I would still be writing or tweeting about it two years later.
Today, we're in a very different place than on March 24th, 2020. Two years ago, we had registered 215 cases total and just five deaths. The first death had occurred just a week prior. We had only had recorded cases for two weeks and a few days. We had not yet started reporting hospitalization data, though, by that point, the numbers were beginning a steep rise in St. Louis in particular.
Today, we have gone from those 215 cases two years ago to over 1.4 million cases. Using DHSS’s reported reinfection rate of 4.26%, some back-of-the-napkin math suggests that more than 22% of Missourians have had a case. Of course, countless more have had infections but are not included in our data either because they were asymptomatic or could not (or chose not to) access a PCR or antigen test. Still, 1 in 5 Missourians is an incredible number on its own.
Hospitalization numbers are equally eye-opening. Since the pandemic began, nearly 42,000 patients have been discharged from St. Louis regional hospitals (though the number of unique individuals may be a bit smaller due to at least some re-hospitalizations).
Even more staggering is the death toll. More than twenty thousand of our neighbors have now died of COVID-19. That's roughly 0.3% of our state's 2019 population. Eyeballing data on the leading causes of death in Missouri for 2017 suggests that COVID-19 was almost certainly the third most common cause of death over the past few years. I know that some of you who read this have lost friends or family members - my heart breaks for your loss.
I also believe that the suffering for Missourians is not over. We may well see another surge from BA.2, though there are reasons to be skeptical. Another wave may come this winter. Then there is the continued burden of chronic illness from post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC; “long COVID”).
Despite these continued challenges, I decided earlier this year to end my COVID-19 tracking project in May, not because I believe COVID is “over” but because, after two years, I am ready for a break and want to tackle some new projects. I’ll have three more newsletters - every other week through May 5th, before River City Data goes on hiatus. My COVID website updates will cease on May 7th. In the meantime, thanks for subscribing - I’m grateful for your readership! - Chris
COVID-19 by the Numbers
Total cases in MO: 1,424,494 (+2,663 from last Thursday)
7-day average of new cases per day in MO: 380.43 (-66.29 from last Thursday)
Counties with per capita rates (per 100,000) over 20 new cases per day this past week:
Montgomery (110.13 per 100,000), Dunklin (35.68), Grundy (35.58), Shelby (35.35), Knox (28.93), Schuyler (28.56), Pettis (24.28), Daviess (20.65), Barton (20.49)
Total deaths in MO: 20,041 (+188 from last Thursday)
7-day average of new deaths per day in MO: 26.86 (-19.57 from last Thursday)
Case and mortality numbers are current as of Wednesday, March 23rd. Additional statistics, maps, and plots are available on my COVID-19 tracking site.
Trends in the Past Two Weeks
Despite the significant morbidity and mortality over the past two years, there has been relatively little change over the past two weeks since my last newsletter. The difference in the previous three months, though, is striking. We have gone from far and away the highest rates of COVID-19 in Missouri to rates that are at or below the lowest levels our state has experienced since testing ramped up in August 2020. So if you are feeling a bit of whiplash, you can be forgiven.
A few months ago, county-level rates all over Missouri peaked between 300 and 400 new cases per 100,000 residents per day. Greene County and some of its neighbors are representative of the high rates Missourians experienced in January.
Today, however, just nine counties have average per capita rates above 20 new cases per 100,000 per day over the last week. Another seventeen counties have rates between ten and twenty. That's just 22% of Missouri's 117 reporting jurisdictions.
These improvements extend beyond new cases. By the end of February (our statewide hospitalization data are increasingly out of date), hospitalization rates in our major metropolitan areas declined from their January highs.
We have much more current data for the St. Louis region. Here, hospitalization rates are now at their lowest rate of the pandemic. Just two months ago, we had over 1,400 in-patients in our hospitals. Now, there are just over 100.
Likewise, rates of patients in intensive care units have moved from nearly 225 just a few months ago to fewer than 25 today. Again, like in-patients overall, these are the lowest rates of the pandemic.
Mortality has also reached a low point as well. We are currently averaging fewer than two deaths per day, a point we have only been at once before - late last spring - since the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force began reporting these data daily.
The slow-down of Federal hospitalization data (the basis of the metro hospitalization plot above) and DHSS’s reporting mortality data is symbolic of a transition I mentioned two newsletters ago. These data providers and others are moving back from their daily or even weekly updates to a slower tempo. The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force is now making a similar shift. They are providing data updates only on Mondays and Thursdays. In addition, St. Louis City stopped updating its ZIP code data a month ago. All signs that, while the pandemic may not be over, the tables, plots, and maps that represent a crucial part of our experience with COVID may soon be a thing of the past.