Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have declined from their mid-July peak, with cases dropping in 45 states and territories, a senior federal health official said.
Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and lead for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, told reporters Aug. 19 that since the third week in July, which marked the latest peak in new COVID-19 cases:
- New cases have decreased by 22%
- Hospitalizations have decreased by 24%
- ICU patient volume has decreased by 13%
COVID-19 hospitalizations totaled 1,088 for the week ending Aug. 8, down from 2,551 for the week ending July 18, according to the tracking site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Death rates, a lagging indicator, are flat after recent increases.
“We are hopeful and anticipate [deaths] will decrease as long as we continue with the current aggressive plans, working collaboratively with the states and locals to continue on with current plans,” Giroir said.
Among the 56 U.S. states and territories, new COVID-19 cases are:
- Declining in 45
- Flat in 6
- Increasing in 5
The jurisdictions with increases include California, Indiana and Vermont.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, MD, said on an Aug. 18 media call that the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations had been declining for two weeks but jumped this week by 86 new cases. California hospitals have 5,058 COVID-19 patients, down from 7,170 on July 21, according to the state’s tracking site.
“We’re reaching out to some of our hospital partners about what might have led to that increase,” Ghaly said.
California has struggled in recent weeks to ensure accurate totals after computer errors were blamed for the exclusion of nearly 300,000 patient records from state totals.
National implications of the latest data
At least four states moved to at least partially ban elective procedures as a result of the July surge. But Giroir said such aggressive steps are not needed.
“I’m generally positive because trends are going in the right direction and we have very good data — theoretical and real data — that the plans we’re implementing are working and will continue to work just about equivalently to a shutdown,” Giroir said.
The case rates Giroir reported were markedly better than those from some private pandemic trackers, which some observers have cited to press for more lockdowns. For instance, a tracker by the Kaiser Family Foundation designates 32 states as current “hotspots” either based on increases in cases and positive rates or relative to various “thresholds.”
Giroir said the federal data is based on testing results provided directly from labs and hospitals.
Testing set to increase substantially
Although the Trump administration is more focused on goals such as reducing hospitalizations instead of increasing overall testing numbers, Giroir said, he does expect testing capacity to continue to rise.
The latest seven-day average of daily tests is 820,000, he said.
The administration expects up to 90 million tests to be performed nationwide in September, including 40 million at the point of care. That would be a significant increase from July, when 25 million were performed overall.
The increase in testing will be driven by the availability of between 20 million and 23 million “15-minute” tests, expected in September, with the possibility that 20 million more such tests may become available, he said.
Testing equipment also is expected to be widely available to all nursing homes by the end of September, Giroir said. The federal government will fund the initial round of equipment deployment to those organizations, and they will be able to buy more on their own using the $2.5 billion the administration distributed last week through the CARES Act.