Delta Wave Crests

[ Posted Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 – 16:59 UTC ]

America may have just turned the corner in the fight against the Delta mutation of the COVID-19 viral pandemic. This is good news, obviously, if the trend continues. It could mean a return to at least the normalcy of the beginning of the summer, which would be a welcome relief to all. And it could signal that the next variant which hits us (whatever Greek letter it happens to have) will be less destructive. And that's really good news for all.

The Delta wave was the fourth wave we've had to ride out, so far. [Note: data for this article comes from two separate sources who use slightly different metrics: the tracking page and the Washington Post tracking page. The critical chart to scroll down to is either "Daily New Cases" or "New reported cases per day."] The first wave peaked in early April of 2020, at 31,000 to 32,000 new cases per day. We hit a long plateau, and then the second wave hit and peaked in late July of last year, at 66,000 to 70,000 cases per day (these are all using the rolling average numbers, not individual daily fluctuations, I should mention). The third wave was the worst, though, peaking right after the holiday travel season, in January, at a frightening 250,000 new cases a day, or slightly above that deadly benchmark. Then vaccines became widely available and if the Delta mutation hadn't shown up we may have not even had a fourth wave. Daily new infections fell to record lows, between only 10,000 and 15,000 new cases per day in June and July.

But Delta then began to spread. And we climbed right back up to around 165,000 new cases each day. But at the moment, that number has now fallen below 135,000 cases per day. And it appears to be heading downward at an accelerating pace -- the same way it did after the third wave.

If you look closely at the charts, you can see that there were two false decreases during the third wave. These were human anomalies, however, not medical -- because they happened exactly when Thanksgiving and the winter holidays did. Fewer people were getting tested and fewer results were being reported because everyone was on vacation. In both cases, the data normalized itself after everyone went back to normal, which resulted in the resumption of the sharp upward climb.

There was a worry that the same thing was going to happen this time. The real peak of the fourth wave came right at the beginning of September -- coincident with Labor Day. Would we see a false dip only to see the numbers spike back up to where they really should have been? Would superspreader events over the holiday weekend cause an increase in infections? Nobody really knew, and due to the time lags involved, it hasn't been until now that anyone can even tentatively say that this appears not to have been the case this time around.

There has been no sudden spike. The holiday didn't impact the data the way Thanksgiving and the winter holidays did last year. At least, so far. We still could see a small Labor Day increase, although every day that goes by without one lessens the chance that any such spike will ever exist.

The really good news is that once the peak has been reached, normally the rate of infection dies out pretty quickly. The slope of the line downwards is just as steep (or steeper) than the climb up to the peak was. Hopefully that will be the case this time too, although it really is too early to say this with any sort of certainty. Give it another week, it may become apparent.

If you look at the charts for each state (available on the Post's page), you can also see that while every state has not yet seen its peak, perhaps the most important ones have -- all the worst-hit states in the South. They've either already peaked in the past week or so, or they're in the process of peaking. This isn't true everywhere -- there are indeed states that are still seeing numbers sharply climb. But since the South was the biggest hotspot, it seems to be good news for the overall national picture.

As time goes on, more and more people are getting vaccinated, too. This is great news because the higher the numbers get, the less chances are of the next COVID mutation hitting us anywhere near as hard as Delta did. From a different Washington Post tracking page (both these pages are free to all, outside their paywall, I should mention), 76.8 percent of all adults in the United States have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. When looking at the entire population (which includes those who are not even eligible for vaccination yet), 64.0 percent have received their first dose and 54.9 percent are fully vaccinated. That's still too low, but that number should improve dramatically once the vaccine is approved for children from five years old to eleven years old. There will be a wave of kids getting vaccinated that should get the whole country up above 70 percent (hopefully, at any rate).

Taken together with the number of people who have gotten sick and have at least partial natural immunity as a result, when the next COVID wave hits there are going to be fewer people susceptible to infection. Which will contribute to any "fifth wave" being (again, hopefully) far smaller than the third and the fourth. That's the goal, at any rate.

Some are already arguing over what has caused the Delta wave to subside. Was it increased mask mandates? More and more people getting vaccinated? Or, to state the reverse, fewer and fewer people left unvaccinated? The scientists will have plenty of time to sift the data and try to figure it out.

But whatever the reason turns out to be, it now seems fairly certain that we have seen the worst of the Delta wave as a nation (there are still pockets of the country rationing care at hospitals because they are so swamped, to be fair). This should become more and more apparent over the next week or two, and the news media will eventually admit this fact to the public. They'll essentially run out of COVID doom-and-gloom stories to run, to put this another way. So while few are now admitting what is happening, this will soon change if the numbers continue to dramatically fall.

We're not out of the woods yet, by any stretch of the imagination. But we've passed the midpoint of our journey through the Delta woods and we're heading downhill now. That may be a mixed metaphor, but however you want to put it, it is great news indeed.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


11 Comments on “Delta Wave Crests”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Where is the Democrats In Disarray headline?

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I suppose that if we only had to worry about how the virus was managing and being managed in the United States of America, this column would make some sense.

    But, this is a PANDEMIC, after all, and there is much more to worry about in our inextricably interconnected and interdependent world than just what is happening currently in the US, to state the obvious.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    To quote, more or less, the opening remarks of the WHO DG Dr. Tedros at the last WHO presser,

    ...the WHO's global target is to support every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population by the end of this year and 70% of the world's population by the middle of next year.

    So far, we are nowhere near these goals.

    Only two countries in Africa, for example, have reached the 40% target, the lowest of any region. And that is not because African countries don't have the capacity or experience to roll out vaccine programs. It's because they have been left behind by the rest of the world.

    Over 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally but only 2% of those have been administered in Africa. This is not only a bad situation for Africa but, it hurts ALL of us [Americans included! - my emphasis]!

    The longer vaccine inequity persists, the longer the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue [around the world! - my emphasis] and the higher the chances that variants far more dangerous than Delta will emerge and render vaccines less effective, everywhere!

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    More from Dr. Tedros (close to verbatim):

    "Many high-income countries and the vaccine companies with whom they have entered into bilateral arrangements are effectively tying up the global supply of life-saving vaccines.

    "Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem. The WHO calls on the vaccine manufacturers to prioritize COVAX, the global clearing house for vaccines, and the African COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Team (AVAT) tasked with purchasing vaccines for African Union member states.

    "The WHO calls on countries who have already achieve high vaccination coverage to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX and AVAT, to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges IMMEDIATELY and to facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.

    "The WHO further calls on all countries and vaccine producers to share information on bilateral deals with COVAX and AVAT so we can understand where vaccines are needed most and to share information on supply and delivery projections so countries can be ready to immediately roll out vaccines when they are available.

    "And, we call on all countries to recognize ALL vaccines with WHO emergency use listing.

    "Despite sounding like a broken record, The WHO will continue to call for vaccine equity until it becomes reality. Otherwise, all countries, including the rich countries, will be dealing with the health, social and economic disruption of this pandemic for much longer than is necessary."

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Biden on ending the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Biden had better be careful about sounding like he is the one who knows how to end the pandemic. Because, based on his rhetoric and actions thus far, he doesn't.

    What he needs to do now is show a lot more humility and deference toward the rest of the world and take heed of all that the WHO is calling for to end this pandemic.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    This topic screams out for a dose of reality, Weigantians. Delta is only the 4th letter in the Greek alphabet. Now that Covid has become an industry, you guys need to face up to the fact that there are still 20 more Greek letters to go, and I suspect that when those are exhausted, the guys responsible for naming plagues will move on the the Sumerian alphabet, or some such.

    Too many people are profiting from this plague for it to ever 'go away', so just get used to it, and wish to hell that you were all my age, so you didn't have to look forward to so much more of the bullshit.

  7. [7] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    I think COVID lives up to the old saying that one should never assume a conspiracy when simple incompetence is a perfectly good explanation...

  8. [8] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Is it too cynical to think that certain ambitious governors would rather be able to point to 'Biden's failure to control covid' than protect the citizens of their own states?

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Is that a serious question?

  10. [10] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    I struggle to think why certain governors would, for example, stop businesses from requiring masks, proof of vaccine or whatever on their own premises when those same governors usually claim that business owners should be free to do whatever they want and exclude whomever they want. And that's besides the empirical evidence that where vaccines, face coverings and distancing are generally observed, infection and hospitalization rates usually come down. You would think that lots of people dying in your state would not be good for your election prospects. So why...?

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think you have answered your own question, Mezzomamma ...

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