Home/Articles/The metrics to watch after the Omicron surge ends
COVID-19 case counts plummeted following a winter marked by the highest case counts since the pandemic began. Federal, state, and local governments eased required prevention measures and shifted how they monitored the virus. Hawaii became the last state to remove its indoor mask mandate in late March. Daily case counts are nearly 96% below all-time highs in January 2022. The latest average daily case count is at 27,000, nearly a fourth of the 104,400 cases per day since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to declare the pandemic over. The agency introduced a new metric to measure the severity and prevalence of COVID-19 at the county level. Known as COVID-19 community levels, the measure relies less heavily on case counts — which are less relevant with the rise of in-home testing — and more on hospitalization metrics.
Community levels are a three-tiered metric to offer guidance at the county level.
The CDC said it created the metric acknowledging that in the current state of the pandemic, there are still people at risk from COVID-19 despite there being "high levels of population immunity from both vaccination and infections."
After hitting an all-time high during Omicron, hospitalizations are near a pandemic low.
According to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data, hospitalizations confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 hit 13.9 daily hospitalizations per 100,000 people in January 2022, the highest rate since January 2021. Since then, hospitalization rates have fallen to less than three hospitalizations per day per 100,000 people. That is near the pandemic low set in spring 2021 before the advent of the Delta variant.
The other hospitalization measure considered in the community levels metric — percentage of staffed adult inpatient beds occupied by patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 — also spiked during Omicron. On January 18, 2022, 22% of such hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, higher than any point in the pandemic. As of March 27, 2% of staffed adult inpatient beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
While not part of the CDC’s community level data, HHS also provides data on adult ICU beds for people with more severe cases of COVID-19. On January 16, 2022, 40% of such hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, close to the pandemic-high of 42% in January 2021. Such hospitalizations are now at a pandemic low. As of March 27, 5% of staffed adult ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Deaths recently dipped below 1,000 a day.
The worst period of deaths from COVID-19 was in January 2021, when the average number of deaths per day was greater than 3,200. This was before vaccines were widely available to the public.
Deaths peaked during the Delta surge at an average of 2,300 per day in September 2021. While the Omicron variant had higher case counts, deaths from that variant's wave peaked at an average of 2,700 per day in February 2022.
In March 2022, the US is on pace to have its least deadly COVID-19 month since August 2021. While one in every 14,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in March 2022, the COVID-19 death rate was nearly three times higher in Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The decline of the monthly death rate was smaller in these three states than in almost every other state.
Wastewater data can serve as a precursor for case data.
The CDC has collected wastewater data since early in the pandemic. Since it doesn’t rely on individuals getting tested, researchers can use this data to get more immediate insights into how the COVID-19 virus is spreading in communities.
As of March 23, the data tracked nearly 500 wastewater sites serving 86.1 million people across 46 states and Washington, DC. Wastewater data showed a 59% decrease in COVID-19 levels compared with the previous 15 days.