The Return Of Doomscrolling

[ Posted Thursday, August 19th, 2021 – 16:53 UTC ]

I haven't written about the progress of the pandemic data for a while, so I thought it was time to take a close look at the fourth wave. Mostly because one thing the Delta mutation of the COVID-19 virus has brought back (at least for me) is "doomscrolling" -- checking in on a daily basis to see what the numbers are and what the data show. It's not exactly a pleasant picture, but there are glimmers of hope here and there, at least.

[Technical Note: All data used in this article come from three sites:, and two Washington Post sites that track case rates and vaccinations in a very in-depth manner (with lots of graphics). And please note that the Post sites are outside their paywall, so everyone should be able to freely access them.]

The worst news is how many new cases are diagnosed every day. This is where the fourth wave is clearly visible, when you see a chart of this metric over the entire course of the pandemic. Using 7-day averages (which mostly eliminate day-to-day variances such as the dip in reporting that happens every weekend), the first wave peaked in mid-April of 2020, at a little more than 31,000 new cases per day. The second wave peaked in late July of last year, hitting a high of over 67,000 cases per day. The third wave was the worst yet, of course, and it peaked at a staggering 248,000 -- just a little under a quarter-million Americans being diagnosed with COVID-19 each and every day.

Then came the vaccine. And the end (finally, after four deadly months) of the third wave. Case levels dropped to a plateau of around 55,000 to 70,000 per day in the spring, and then fell further in May, when everyone who wanted to get vaccinated right away was able to do so. By July, we really looked like we were out of the woods and/or had turned the corner (pick your metaphor) -- daily cases dropped to a manageable 12,000 or 13,000 per day (the July 4th weekend was kind of an anomaly, but the numbers stayed in the 11,000 to 14,000 range from mid-June through the first week of July).

Then the fourth wave hit. Nobody knows now where or when it will peak, since the slope of the line is still pretty sharply upwards. Currently, the 7-day average stands at over 139,000 new cases per day -- much higher than the first two waves, but not quite to the levels of the third wave (yet, at any rate). The official total of the number of Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 (for the entire pandemic) is getting close to 40 million -- far more than 10 percent of the total population. What's really disconcerting about this is the rise in the number of current active cases -- the people who are still sick and have not either recovered fully or died from the virus. It now stands at over 7 million, after dropping below 4.8 million, just a few weeks ago. That's not a happy trend at all.

There is one possible piece of good news here, although I admit it might be illusory. It might be a minor data anomaly, in other words, and we won't know for at least another week or so whether it is even remotely true or not. But the curve charting the daily average of new cases seems to be slightly bending downwards, over roughly the past week. Again, the slope of the line hasn't changed that dramatically -- meaning even if this turns out to be true, we still probably haven't yet gotten close to hitting the peak -- but if it is true it could mean that peak is coming a lot sooner than you might think. It's still too early to really tell, though (which, of course, will keep me doomscrolling on a daily basis for the foreseeable future).

The really good news, however, is that the death rate hasn't spiked anywhere near as high as the new case rate. It is up considerably from the lows reached in June and July, and now stands at just over 700 per day (when it had fallen to a low of under 250 per day), but this is still not nearly as bad as the peaks of even the first and second waves, much less the third (when it topped out at a grim 3,500 deaths per day). Part of this is because the death numbers always lag the infection numbers, but it is also rather obviously due to more and more people getting vaccinated. The vaccine isn't perfect at protecting people from getting the virus, but it still is excellent at reducing the severity of the disease even in people who do catch it. Which leads to fewer hospitalizations among the vaccinated, and far fewer deaths.

As President Biden has said, the fourth wave is truly a pandemic of the unvaccinated. These are the people who are winding up in hospitals and dying, in other words. And when you look at the state-level data, this becomes painfully evident.

As I previously pointed out back at the start of July, 21 states had hit the milestone of over 70 percent of their adults getting at least their first shot of vaccine. All 21 of them are blue states. Since then, only two other states have joined the list: Florida and Utah. They are the first purple (well, reddish-purple, more like) and red states which have done so -- all the others lag. And the ones at the back of the pack are all ruby-red states -- and are all experiencing a much more severe fourth wave than the blue states.

By the numbers, when you look at the rates of infection on a per capita basis (per 100,000 residents), the top 12 worst states are all red ones (with the possible exception of reddish-purple Florida, in third place). Mississippi is the worst, with a rate of 120 new infections per day for every 100,000 people. Maine, the best state, has only 12 -- one-tenth the rate of Mississippi. You have to go down to the 14th state on that list to find a blue state (Hawai'i, with 50 per day). When you look at the raw numbers (not adjusted for population), there's an even more striking divide. Florida and Texas both have higher overall numbers of new infections (20,524 and 16,691, respectively) than the most-populous state in the nation, California (with an average of 12,844 new cases per day over the past 7 days). The next state down on that list is Georgia, with only 7,443 new cases. California has roughly one-third more people than Texas, and over 80 percent more people than Florida. Put another way: Per capita, Florida is almost three times worse than California (96 cases per day per 100,000 people versus 33).

The really good news in all of this data is that more and more holdouts are beginning to get vaccinated. The number of daily shots administered hit over one million today, a milestone which hadn't been reached since just before Independence Day. But that's a long way from the peak, which we hit on April 10th with a whopping 4.6 million shots administered in a single day. Still, at least that line is curving back up again, after stagnating for so long. To be blunt, Delta is scaring more and more people into getting their shots. And that's a good thing -- for everybody.

Overall, we're about to hit a few milestones nationwide. Or, at the very least, "some awfully round numbers that people can easily grasp." Today we hit 199.9 million Americans who have gotten at least their first shot. Out of those, 169.6 million have been fully vaccinated. This represents 60.2 percent of the total population of the country with their first shot, and 51.1 percent fully vaccinated. But "200 million" and "170 million" is the easy way to put it, of course.

But that's out of the total population (332 million), which includes 52 million people who aren't even eligible yet (the vaccine has still not been approved for children under the age of 12). When you count only the eligible population (280 million), the numbers look even better. An impressive 71.4 percent of all those eligible have gotten at least their first shot, and 60.6 percent are fully vaccinated. That's still a long way from the vaunted herd immunity level, but it's getting a lot closer. With the rate of new vaccinations picking up, these numbers can be expected to improve quicker than expected (a few weeks ago). That is good news indeed.

President Joe Biden just made several announcements on the pandemic issue. The first concerns everyone; that a third booster shot will be available 8 months after you received your second dose. Unfortunately, this is going to come far too late to help much with the Delta-driven fourth wave, but it may be instrumental in preventing a fifth wave (with whatever Greek letter threatens us next). Eight months ago, after all, only the very few were getting vaccinated, in mid-December. By the time the third shot is freely available (the middle of next month), it will cover everyone vaccinated by mid-January -- which mostly consisted of the highest-risk population and first responders on the frontlines of the battle. It won't be until a few more months down the road that the general population will be getting their booster shots, meaning the fourth wave will (hopefully) already be over by then. But, again, this should be seen more as preventing the fifth wave from even happening. If there are fewer "breakthrough" infections among the vaccinated, this should slow the spread of any future variant.

Biden also announced what is essentially a federal mandate for all nursing home workers to get vaccinated. Any facility that cannot prove all their employees are vaccinated will soon begin to lose all Medicare and Medicaid dollars -- which they rely heavily upon. In addition, several blue-state governors have issued mandates for teachers and other school employees, first responders and nurses, and other segments of the population. This will also help slow the spread of the pandemic.

Of course, there are a few very loud and very squeaky wheels out there, fighting hard against vaccine mandates and masks. They have gotten a lot of media attention, since they are so annoyingly vocal. But the polls are beginning to show how small a minority they are. There is a large "silent majority" out there who approves of such things as mask mandates in schools, so the governors of places like Florida and Texas who are fighting these mandates tooth and nail might actually pay a political price for doing so. One can only hope, at least.

Biden should be given credit for leading on this issue, although he's not leading as fast as some would like to see. He could institute a ban on unvaccinated people flying or riding trains or buses, for instance -- a step he has yet to take. This would make life harder for the unvaccinated, and might convince many of them to go ahead and get their shots. But so far, Biden hasn't taken this step.

Despite the ranting and raving of a few, most people in this country see the pandemic through an apolitical lens. COVID-19 doesn't vote, and doesn't particularly care which political party you prefer. It attacks indiscriminately. So most sane adults would like to see the government's response be based on science and what will end this whole nightmare the fastest for everyone.

We all thought we were out of the woods, back on Independence Day. That wonderful and glorious feeling lasted only a few short weeks, though. Then Delta hit. And we're still taking that metaphorical punch. And until things get a lot better once again, I join the millions of others who have returned to daily doomscrolling -- on the off chance that I'll see some good and optimistic news in all the data streams.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “The Return Of Doomscrolling”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i wonder about utah. do you think they're less bought into trump-mania than the rest of the conservaverse?

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Mormons never were as tolerant of Trump as was the rest of the Christian right. It's why Mitt probably doesn't need to worry about the Trumpanzies.

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I don't understand why you couldn't make a public service announcement without asking Trump to do it. "Trump is proud of the vaccines that were developed during his presidency." [Insert quote from Trump to that effect.]"He and Melania got the vaccines themselves in January." "After getting COVID-19 himself, Trump understood the importance of protecting himself from further danger." "Speaking on Fox News, Trump encouraged people to get vaccinated." [Insert quote from Fox News.] "So do what Donald and Melania Trump did--get vaccinated."
    All of these things are public record. What could he do to stop people from assembling an announcement like that?

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    good point! the ad practically writes itself, and it hits the target demographic like no other endorsement could, witting or unwitting.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Ya nailed it, andygaus!

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Regarding the Afghanistan fiasco, it appears that Joe and everybody were blindsided by the rapidity of Afghanistan's collapse. Our military thought it could take up to two years for the Taliban to defeat the good guys. You know, the Afghani
    army we spent $83B training and equipping. Thanks to US tax dollars the Taliban have
    literally tons of new toys that we left behind.

    That being said, it's incumbent upon Joe to move heaven and earth (including troops and air strikes as needed) to get our Afghani allies out of there and park them in Guam (as we've done before with refugees.)

    Bad enough that Trump screwed our Kurdish allies in Syria. Joe simply MUST avoid a similar hit on America's reputation and credibility. It will cost us in the long run if we get this wrong.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Couldn't agree more, Caddy ...

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