January 2022 – how was it for you? It was Australia’s worst for COVID.

Let’s start with the US wrap up for COVID in January 2022 – in the context of prior month trends. Over 20 million covid cases reported – that’s the highest ever case number; higher even than India during the Delta surge. January recorded 59,000 deaths. Only 3 months have recorded more deaths in this pandemic. Total US deaths are now approaching 900,000.

Still think OMICRON is less troublesome….. when a very big number (like 20 million) gets multiplied by a small number (Omicron fatality rate)… its still a big number. Current average daily fatalities are about 2,400 total for the US. Only in January/ February 2021 have we exceeded those rates.

Average daily trend (this chart is a little busy… I need to edit my macros as I didn’t plan to be sustaining a 2 year time series!). Data points are plotted at month end (and max) points. Clearly cases have peaked!

State data as of 2-2-22

I had to recalibrate my US heat maps because Omicron numbers are so large – but lets cut to the chase and look at the average daily fatality rate across the states. Red is more than 10 fatalities per million per day…very high

As for one example – my home state of Tennessee has an average of 10.7 fatalities per million per day. That translates to single digit availability of hospital and ICU beds:

I’d expect a similar picture across many of the states in red.

While several states have certainly peaked (see NY below); case levels are still very high across the country (2nd chart below)

For those that prefer tables to pictures – here’s the data:

Alaska leading the way on per capita basis

Mississippi is having a very significant surge in fatalities:

Global Context

Here’s India – just to put the US 20 million cases in Jan into context. India recorded 6.5 million cases:

France is currently one of the leading countries in the world for new cases. Over 9 million cases recorded in January – in a country with about 1/5th the population of the US.

Denmark (small population) is leading the world in per capita cases. It recorded almost 1 million cases – and the second highest month for fatalities in its history. Fully 15% of its population tested positive in January. How long until herd immunity?

Israel – almost the exact same numbers play out here. 17% of the population tested positive for COVID in January. It was the 7th highest month for covid deaths.

Africa is recording very little cases – and the epicenter of Omicron (South Africa) has clearly moved past its peak. A look at the global map shows very little activity. I’m not sure if I can put the same level of confidence in this data as we do for US and Europe. Notice how France, Denmark and Israel stand out:

Australia has fully joined the Omicron surge with average daily per capita cases in excess of 2,800. Its kind of shocking to see how an island nation with tough lock downs can have been so successful for some many months – only to see Omicron surge this way. January was the highest ever month for COVID fatalities.

US Peaks on cases but not yet fatalities

The global march of Omicron is still going – check out the case numbers reported on the WHO website. 2022 is showing a truly unprecedented level of cases. World wide over 22 million cases recorded in the week running up to Jan 17th. Thankfully the fatality curve has not followed suit.

The US has peaked for cases – but not yet fatalities

Fatalities are now 7.5 per million per day – which is over 2,300 deaths per day on average.

This is the monthly data to 28th Jan. Looking at the trend expect around 57,000 deaths in January – bringing this to be the highest in 11 months. Expect cases to just about reach 20 million cases in January!

10 states lead the highest fatalities tables – all exceeding 10 fatalities per million per day. My home state of TN is #8.

TN certainly has not peaked yet with respect to cases

So expect no relief on fatalities in short order

Little wonder that TN ICU capacity is around 6%

North Eastern States look to have well peaked for cases

But fatalities still too high – all at around 10 per million per day

Putting that in perspective – fatalities in January are the highest in 11 months. It is certainly 4th highest month for fatalities since inception – and it’s in with a shot of being the 3rd highest by month end.

We are still in this. February should bring significant relief to the North Eastern states. For other states – look for February to bring further challenges with respect to fatalities.

Go Tesla = good for climate

I am a proud Tesla owner – and have been for over a year now. I get joy every day driving a car that is responsive, fun to drive, quiet etc. Electric cars are superior in so many ways.

With over 1 million cars produced and sold last year Tesla knows how to execute. Margins per car sold are higher than traditional manufacturers.

Now check out the article from Bloomberg which shows that Tesla’s factory in CA is more productive than others in the US. Here’s a quote :

Elon Musk has a very specific vision for the ideal factory: densely packed, vertically integrated and unusually massive. During Tesla Inc.’s early days of mass production, he was chided for what was perceived as hubris. Now, Tesla’s original California factory has achieved a brag-worthy title: the most productive auto plant in North America.

Last year Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, produced an average of 8,550 cars a week. That’s more than Toyota Motor Corp.’s juggernaut in Georgetown, Kentucky (8,427 cars a week), BMW AG’s Spartanburg hub in South Carolina (8,343) or Ford Motor Co.’s iconic truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan (5,564), according to a Bloomberg analysis of production data from more than 70 manufacturing facilities.

There’s a lesson for government incentives in this (they were helpful in Tesla’s first years) – but the roadmap is clear – producing better vehicles that are emission free is something CUSTOMERS WANT. You don’t need to incentivize that!

Tesla sells all of its production with zero advertising. All the other auto makers are bigger on advertising than delivery. Think about that.

I like the idea of incentives to help increase the rate of production of electric vehicles. But if the other big autos don’t solve their supply chain issues, and can’t deliver the vehicles people want – then the incentive won’t work.

Example Ford’s lightning pickup – while touted with much fanfare – will be just 2% of annual production of its pickups. Now that shows a lack of optimism or capacity for electric.

In my view the big traditional autos have the earnings and know how to invest in an electric future. They just need to solve their design and supply chain issues for themselves. GM made over $15bn in profit in 2020. Does it really need handouts to have the ability to deliver and product that many want.

My final view on incentives is a rant! When President Biden proposes an incentive that pays more for the purchase of a vehicle from a UNIONIZED factory – he has now politicized climate change further. Isn’t a Tesla produced in America just as good for the American economy as a GM vehicle?

Why is the Biden administration so against Tesla.

As we started this article. Tesla and the free market – with mild incentives for a start up – created a winning product- solved production problems.

The Biden administration solution to climate change is to offer billions to established companies all making billions – and to exclude the winning company from that incentive.

Government incentives should focus on helping startups (like Tesla in the beginning) get their products to market and build economies of scale so that customers make the choice.

If they want to do the right thing for climate – create equal incentives that value all US jobs created (not just those in union plants) and work on infrastructure (for all vehicle makes).

US: 14 million Omicron cases in first 3 weeks of January

As expected – Omicron is so virulent; and testing is now so prevalent – than recorded cases already for Jan (to the 21st) are at a record. Over 14 million cases. Run rate for fatalities puts it about 50,000 deaths this month.

Even though the UK has definitely peaked on average daily cases – the total for the month will be a record – and fatalities will be the highest for 10 months.

The UK has definitely peaked for cases:

But the US has not and the fatality rate has risen sharply and is much higher (per capita) than the UK:

Tennessee

My home state Tennessee shows sharply rising cases, and very high level of fatalities

But NY has definitely peaked:

But not soon enough to avoid January being a record month for fatalities in the past 10+ months. Expect fatalities of about 5,000 by the end of the month – close to the same level from Jan 2021.

11 States now have average daily fatalities in excess of 10 people per million per day:

It’s still time to be cautious and avoid putting incremental pressure on hospitals. And of course – if you are not vaccinated or boosted – get it!

The overall higher fatality rate in the US versus the UK is most likely attributable to lower vaccination levels here in the US.

UK has definitely peaked on Omicron

The UK has definitely peaked on Omicron – as can be seen from the chart below. Cases now are a little over half of the peak values. Looking at the charts – the peak is about 1 month after daily cases per capita exceeded 600 cases per million. Fatalities not yet falling.

The Uk is the only European country experiencing this pattern – most others are still rising

Across the world we can now easily see the rise of Omicron in the global numbers. Over 20 million cases in the most recent week. It now eclipses prior peaks.

Fatalities are not rising strongly yet in the WHO data.

Where has Omicron peaked?

Could Omicron have peaked in some countries – and if so – what are the implications for the US? Lets take a look at a few charts:

The UK looks to have peaked on cases, but fatalities are still climbing – and generally very high for this country. UK cases declined this week at about a 25% rate.

Germany – looked to have peaked – likely due to delta – but is on the upswing again. Notice though that cases per capita are about one third those of the UK.

South Africa discovered Omicron – so this is a good place to focus. Too early to say if fatalities have peaked – but cases are approximately ¼ of the recent peak in December. Average daily cases also fell by about 27% week over week (similar to the UK). So looking at this chart – it seems the Omicron peak lasts about 4 to 6 weeks.

France is the #2 country in the world for new cases – around 4,000 cases per million per day. That’s almost double the rate of case creation as the US. Over 3 million cases recorded this month to date. Fatalities this month will likely be the highest for the past 8 months.

US impact

Lets try to assess the impact on the US.

The US has still not yet peaked – so hard to say when we can begin to predict the end of Omicron – but I would throw out a 3 – 4 week guess at this point. The challenge here is that the UK data shows a lag in the fatality curve, so hospitalizations and fatalities will likely increase still further.

So far this month (to approximately the mid month) we are at 9.5 million new cases of COVID. A pandemic record for the US.

For a moment – think about the disruption to services; flights; transportation & trucking that comes with that many people having to isolate for 5+ days.

Average daily fatalities are around 1700 – so that puts a prediction on the number of fatalities this month at around 51,000. It will certainly be the highest in the past 4 months – and possibly the highest in the last 10 months. We’ll follow up on that at the end of the month.

What’s happening inside the US

New York, New Jersey and a limited few others – may have peaked for new cases. However both have VERY HIGH levels of fatalities – over 9 fatalities per million per day. Looking at the charts it seems the peak of cases is about 5 weeks after per capita cases break through 250 cases per million per day.

A similar story plays out for Washington DC

Many states are still surging on Omicron – with no signs of peaking

Here are four neighboring states all with rising Omicron cases:

There really isn’t any state that is not experiencing very high levels of COVID cases right now:

And many states are at high levels of per capita fatalities. Indiana is currently leading the country with 13 fatalities per million per day.

Fatalities league table – 6 states have more than 10 fatalities per million per day

Southern Hempisphere

Interesting to note – that initially the Southern Hemisphere (ex South Africa) seemed to have skipped the Omicron surge – well not anymore. A hot topic right now is the Australia Tennis competiton – and the status of Novak Djokovic. Well that country is SURGING right now:

Omicron is no Djok in Australia. So far this month the highest level of positive cases since inception.

We get a similar situation in Argentina although, as we see from the chart, Argentina has been less successful overall in controlling prior COVID variants.

Predictions

Expect more significant supply chain disrputions for the next month. Omicron is just starting to hit the Southern Hempisphere – and if it hits some of the key producing nations for good and electronics – this could be significant (think China; Singapore; South Korea; Japan etc)

Its not inconceivable that there will be another approximate 50,000 deaths by end February – meaning that the US could have recorded 900,000 deaths total by end Feb.

Omicron workforce disruption Jan 2022

Great reporting from Morning Brew…. Consider subscribing:

In workplaces across the country, Americans who have Covid are asking their colleagues to cover for them while they’re out sick. And when those coworkers can’t, because, well, they also have Covid, you get the kind of severe economic disruptions the US is facing right now.

The numbers: The US is averaging about 650,000 cases a day, more than double the peak during last winter’s surge. It’s also likely a big undercount, given how many people are testing positive using at-home tests or who aren’t getting tested at all.

With so many people getting sick, up to 5 million US workers were forced to stay home last week, Capital Economics researcher Andrew Hunter calculated. That means about 3% of the labor force was knocked offline, setting off a cascade of damaging effects across critical industries like health care and education.

  • About 20% of US hospitals reported critical staffing shortages last week, the highest share since December 2020.
  • One California superintendent taught a high school physics class last Monday after 300 teachers were absent from schools, primarily because they got infected with Covid.

And even in the aviation industry, where staffing shortages are well documented, it’s still worth noting that Alaska Airlines canceled 10% of its flights for the remainder of January, citing an “unprecedented” number of employees calling in sick.

But sometimes, it’s not so easy to do that

Many low-wage workers in the US are being forced to choose between going to work sick or losing out on a paycheck. Only 33% of workers in the bottom 10% of the wage bracket get paid sick leave, compared to 95% in the top 10%. And while companies juiced up their paid leave policies early in the pandemic, they’re starting to wind them down.

  • Walmart and Amazon, the two largest private employers in the US, cut paid leave last week after the CDC shortened its isolation guidance for infected people.

Bottom line: Economists have likened the Omicron surge to a blizzard—a sharp, sudden shock to the economy that will take some time to dig out from but, once it’s over, won’t produce many lingering effects.

70,000 people are testing positive per day in NY

The state of New York, population 19 million is currently experiencing 70,000 positive new tests per day . That’s about 0.4% of the population every day!

Here’s the number of positive tests for the first week:

Average deaths are about 100 per day over the same period.

Here’s the graphical trend – per capita at the state level. Notice the rate of fatalities has tripled in the past 3 weeks. While Omicron may be less severe in percentage terms; the sheer spread of Omicron can still result in large numbers of fatalities.

A closer look at New York City reveals the huge rate of new cases (about 40% of new cases from the state are in NYC). That’s about 1.5% of the population – every day!

A similar story is playing out in NJ. Here is the results for Essex County, NJ – over 4,000 new positive cases, per million, per dayy.

Tennessee

Tennessee is not quite as bad – just yet. Shelby County is one of the highest (cases are similar to Essex County, NJ):

Davidson county has typically been less impact by COVID than Shelby – and current trends support the same trend:

Omicron Spreads – fatalities on the rise

This picture tells it all – new cases across America are at extreme levels:

Lets look at this in table form:

Perhaps the messaging on Omicron being less lethal has resulted in a false sense of confidence – as we can see average daily fatality rates starting to rise across the country:

Generally a level of about 0.5 fatalities per million per day would be considered to be broadly comparable to seasonal flu. About 1 per million per day is about as good as we can seem to expect – so generally quite a few states doing reasonably well – notably California & Florida to name two.

Here’s the data in table form.

Lets look at this in whole numbers (not per capita) at the US levels. Average daily new cases are over 400,000 per day – and average daily fatalities are 1,360.

We will see how the data unfolds – but an average of 400,000 cases per day would be well over 10 million cases for the month – which would be a record – by a long shot.

Fatalities for the month of December were almost 42,000 – making this the 8th highest month for deaths on record.

States:

Most states tend to have the same sort of curve – here are a few from the north east – rising cases and fatalities:

Illinois has a strongly rising fatalities curve:

With a similar story in North Carolina:

Florida is bucking the trend – cases rose significantly – but no sudden spike in fatalities.

California, as noted previously has managed to keep fatalities down through Delta – but probably too early to call re Omicron.

Scorched earth – not yet:

Arizona is getting hit pretty hard which, I guess, means its too early to call the scorched earth theory. The number of COVID deaths in December was the 5th highest month in its history.

Arizona has one of the highest levels of total covid fatalities since inception in the country. At #2 on the list it has had over 3,400 deaths from COVID per million residents since inception.

The lesson here is that – if a state like Arizona – with already one of the highest levels of total COVID fatalities per capita – can be recording current high level of fatalities – then unfortunately there is still potential for significant stress ahead.

This snapshot from azdhs.gov shows current ICU capacity available of 6% in Arizona – with COVID patients taking up 36% of ICU beds.

COVID patients are taking up 71% of emergency department hospital beds:

This is not an isolated example. In Tennessee – hopsital capacity is in single digits:

The next two months are going to be very difficult. Don’t be too complacent about Omicron. Yes it is less lethal – but there are still plenty of unvaccinated individuals to create stress on the hospital systems.

That obviously has second order effects. Need emergency treatment for a non covid reason…. that may be difficult right now