News Release

What to Make of the Covid Surge?


Recent reporting has sounded the alarm on this summer’s Covid surge. But it’s been challenging for the public to know what to make of the numbers.

BENJY RENTON;, @bhrenton 
    Renton researches vaccine access and equity and other issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic for Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Renton told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “It’s challenging to find good data on Covid for a number of reasons: testing has gone down, data sources are not being updated as frequently.” 

To mitigate the problem, Renton and his colleague, Jeremy Faust, put together a “1-stop shop dashboard” for Covid metrics, which they published in Faust’s Inside Medicine newsletter. The dashboard covers thousands of U.S. jurisdictions and includes data on wastewater levels, hospitalization rates and capacities, ICU census data, death rates, and some testing

“Hospitalization rates have been hugely valuable for us,” Renton added. Though it can be difficult to tease out the number of people admitted to the hospital with Covid versus for Covid (an issue that has comprised much of the public health debates over hospitalization numbers for the virus), “the for/with question misses the main point: which is that the people getting admitted to the hospital still do have Covid. [Currently], smaller numbers of people are being admitted primarily for Covid.” But Renton notes that in “tipover” cases, “people may have chronic conditions that Covid exacerbates or worsens. For people with diabetes or chronic lung disease, Covid can be more damaging and put [them] in the hospital. That’s certainly still something to pay attention to.” 

The U.S. has seen multiple summer surges of Covid. “This is a pattern of the virus, and something we will have to continue dealing with. Particularly in the South, where it’s hot, people are spending more time indoors [in the summer]. That’s an easy way for viruses to spread. But from the [numbers], the spike is all over. There’s not enough data to show where spikes are happening from preliminary hospital data.”

Renton emphasized that the current spike is not comparable to previous waves. Wastewater levels are a third of the Omicron peak in the winter of 2022; hospitalization rates are less than 10 percent of that Omicron peak. “The baseline is a lot lower these days.”