Our Most Reliable Pandemic Number Is Losing Meaning

At least 12,000 Amer­i­cans have already died from COVID-19 this month, as the coun­try inch­es through its lat­est surge in cas­es. But anoth­er wor­ry­ing sta­tis­tic is often cit­ed to depict the dan­gers of this moment: The num­ber of patients hos­pi­tal­ized with COVID-19 in the Unit­ed States right now is as high as it has been since the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary. It’s even worse in cer­tain places: Some states, includ­ing Arkansas and Ore­gon, recent­ly saw their COVID hos­pi­tal­iza­tions rise to high­er lev­els than at any pri­or stage of the pan­dem­ic. But how much do those lat­ter fig­ures real­ly tell us?From the start, COVID hos­pi­tal­iza­tions have served as a vital met­ric for track­ing the risks posed by the dis­ease. Last win­ter, this mag­a­zine described it as “ …

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