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Reduced US testing is blurring view of the pandemic

At first glance, the epidemic picture in the United States may seem significantly more stable. The average number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases per day has fallen sharply over the past few weeks, hovering between 95,000 and 115,000 per day in June.

A closer look shows that public testing sites run by state and local governments have won, more states have stopped providing daily data updates, creating a foggy look at the state of the virus across the country.

It was seen as a new federal estimate on Tuesday that the fast-spreading omicon submarine known as BA.5 has become dominant in the new coronavirus case. As of the week ending Saturday, BA.5 made up about 54% of new cases in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Just a week ago, the agency’s estimates put BA.5 and BA.4, another Omicron subvariant, as influential together, a trend expert predicted. The new figures released on Tuesday morning are based on modeling and could be revised as more data arrives.

BA.4 and BA.5 coronaviruses are able to avoid vaccines and some antibodies produced after infection, including infections caused by some other versions of Omicron. But researchers in South Africa recently reported that a spring wave driven by BA.4 and BA.5 did not appear to cause significantly more serious disease than the country’s first omicon wave.

The decline in U.S. public testing means that the capacity for lab-based PCR testing in July will be only half of what it was in March, according to recent estimates by research and consulting firm Health Catalysts Group. Even a few experimental companies announced layoffs and shutdowns last week.

Most of the positive results of popular home test kits are not included in the official data and not everyone who is infected knows or is tested. Many Americans seem to be moving further away from focusing on the daily case count – which is to say with certainty that the total number of infections has always been low – as a measure of the country’s epidemic health. But other Americans, including at risk, say they feel neglected and abandoned because their government and neighbors have tried to return to normal.

And some scientists have speculated that the current wave of cases is the second largest of the epidemics.

“One of my favorite lines from someone at the CDC was‘ you don’t have to count the raindrops to know how hard the rain is, ’” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walenski told a conference in Aspen in late June, Colorado. “So we can say in between half a million to one million PCRs that we’re doing every day how we’re doing in regions across the country.”

The CDC’s observations on community risk levels show that in its most recent update, 33% of the American population lived in a high-risk county in most areas outside the Northeast. In May, the map was reversed, with most of the high-risk counties in the Northeast. The CDC recommends wearing such a title in public.

Cases continued to decline throughout June, mostly in the Northeast, according to a New York Times database. In the South, many states have seen double or triple cases at the same time. As of Sunday, more than 113,000 new coronavirus cases are being reported daily in the United States.

“This is not a reflection of the total amount of the virus spreading in communities,” said Amesh Adalza, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at Bloomberg School of Public Health. He said his “behind the envelope” estimate was about 1 million cases per day.

As states report less frequently, changes in the trajectory of the virus are slower to manifest themselves. According to Times Tracking, almost every state reported new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths five days or more a week in 2020 and 2021, but 23 states now release new data only once a week.

California, which updates its growing case and death statistics once a week, now does so only twice a week. In Florida, case and death data are published once every two weeks. Last week, many more public testing sites in Alaska, Colorado and Rhode Island were shut down. Iowa is shutting down many sites by the end of next week.

Recent virus figures have hiccuped around holidays like Memorial Day and Juventus, at a time when many states often stop reporting and then resume tracking, a trend that will continue this week, after the July 4th holiday weekend.

“Following the daily test count is less instructive than this,” Adalza said, referring to the close relationship between cases and hospitalizations in the past.

Today’s numbers shouldn’t be considered as checking a sports team’s daily standing or scores, he added.

“I think testing is playing a different role,” he said. “Even when the test was at a different stage, it has always been underestimated.”

To see how the virus is spreading locally, Adzala said he has come to rely on hospital admissions as a percentage of its capacity. He also examines the CDC’s community level tracker, which includes new hospital admissions and how many beds are used. He called for focusing on serious diseases instead of tracking “booms and busts of cases”.

The number of hospital admissions increased slightly throughout June, although it remained low. On average, more than 33,000 people a day are hospitalized in the U.S. with coronavirus, and less than 4,000 are in intensive care. The country’s daily death toll in January 2021 is down from a peak of more than 3,300 deaths, with new deaths reported below 400 per day.

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