COVID-19 Updates

Updated March 01, 2021

Over the past year, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has emerged as a global pandemic, impacting lives and economies on scales rarely seen. Below, Forte Analytics has highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. health care system.

Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones impacted by this crisis, especially the hospitals, physicians, and long-term care providers serving on the front lines.

Data source: USAFacts
Retrieved from https://usafactsstatic.blob.core.windows.net/public/data/covid-19/covid_confirmed_usafacts.csv
Accessed on February 27, 2021. (Data current as of February 28, 2021.)
Rendered by Forte Analytics

1-Month Change in U.S. Health Care Jobs:
Overall and Three Components Representing Ambulatory Health Care Services, Hospitals, and Nursing and Residential Care Facilities

Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, CES6562100001, CES6562200001, CES6562300001, Plus Sum of All Three Components
Updated on February 05, 2021, with data through January 2021

For years, the U.S. health care sector has demonstrated remarkable durability with respect to annual and monthly job growth and has weathered significant downturns, such as the Great Recession and other less impactful recessions. In fact, the resistance of this sector to job cuts during these downturns has led some to refer to it as a “recession-resistant” component of the U.S. economy.1 Unexpectedly, it appears that a global viral pandemic—a time of urgent need—will lay bare vulnerabilities underlying the U.S. health care system. The ongoing challenges in the health care sector first appeared as a crack in March 2020 (–40,000 jobs), followed by the opening of a chasm in April 2020 (–1.4 million jobs).

The monthly jobs report for May 2020 brought some good news. Broadly, the U.S. economy added more than 2.5 million payroll jobs and the unemployment rate dropped significantly. Within the health care sector, more than 300,000 workers returned to jobs in May. While May’s increases were limited to the ambulatory health care services (AHCS) component, the pace of job losses slowed in the other two health care components, raising hopes of a rebound across all components in June’s report.

Indeed, the good employment news continued in June 2020, with the U.S. economy adding 4.8 million payroll jobs, as the unemployment rate fell to 11.1%. In health care, more than 350,000 jobs were added. By component, AHCS and hospitals both added jobs, while nursing and residential care facilities posted another monthly loss.

As 2020 came to a close, the late fall employment reports showed a slowing labor market, ending with an unfortunate loss of 140,000 jobs in December 2020. These combined results highlight dwindling impact from stimulus measures taken much earlier in the pandemic, as well as rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts across the nation.

In December 2020, the health care sector added a little under 40,000 jobs. By health care component, there was a rise in AHCS and hospital jobs, but another drop at nursing and residential care facilities.

Concerns surrounding COVID-19 case counts are increasing, both in the U.S. and globally, bringing further uncertainty around the world’s fragile economic recovery from the initial shocks of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Hopes for a sustainable recovery remain focused on the development and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine (see below).

1 M.L. Dolfman, et al. Healthcare jobs and the Great Recession. Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2018/article/healthcare-jobs-and-the-great-recession.htm. Accessed April 2020.

Top 20 Countries for Cumulative COVID-19 Case Counts, by Date

Data source: World Health Organization
Retrieved from https://covid19.who.int/
Accessed on February 28, 2021. (Data current as of February 28, 2021.)

As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, governments at all levels—nation, state, and municipality—are reacting with varying speed and to varying degrees. As the threat of an outbreak increases, governments must make complex decisions, risking criticism for reacting either too aggressively or too slowly. The mathematics of pandemics is unforgiving, with early actions vital in slowing or even halting the spread of the disease.1 As South Korea makes clear, recent experience with an outbreak can make government’s job easier. However, the duration of the current pandemic has stretched the public’s patience, even for those early success stories, as indicated by rising case counts in South Korea.2

In January 2021, the world’s efforts to contain COVID-19 remain mixed. Importantly, two new strains of the virus—B.1.1.7 and B.1.351—with significantly higher transmissibility are now spreading rapidly. The B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in several U.S. states, many of which are already experiencing decreased hospital capacity. Collectively, these data highlight the challenges of limiting the spread of the disease through non-pharmaceutical interventions—masks, reduced public gatherings, social distancing, etc.—steps which disrupt lives and economies significantly, highlighting the world’s need for and anticipation of safe and effective vaccinations.

Promising news for just such a vaccine was announced in November 2020, with Pfizer and BioNTech stating that their messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccine demonstrated more than 90% effectiveness based on interim analysis of their large trial data. Moderna followed with equally promising data shortly after. Both vaccines have now received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with initial distribution underway in the U.S. and elsewhere. While administration of vaccine has been slower than some first hoped, the fact there are two vaccines available and more on the way offers significant light during an otherwise dark period of the pandemic.

1 Australian Academy of Sciences. The Mathematics of Social Distancing. Retrieved from https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/mathematics-social-distancing. Accessed April 2020.

2 Kuhn, A. (2020). New Coronavirus Cases Are on the Rise in South Korea. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/08/20/904213121/new-coronavirus-cases-are-on-the-rise-in-south-korea. Accessed September 2020.