We've been through a couple of waves before. This one is very, very different. It's starting from a much higher baseline, and it's much broader, with all states rising in unison. But there are two other differences that are scaring the hell out of me.
First, we are entering the steep part of the wave, and it is not the top story in the news. That matters, because media coverage and fear change behaviors that can help limit the spread. (It's why we saw signs of softening in the earlier waves before the lockdowns could show results, as travel, transit, retail all took hits before the lockdowns made it official.) Without that coverage and changes in behavior, this wave has the potential to keep climbing much longer.
Second, we're entering two huge boosters. Every year you can see the post-holiday spike in flu deaths. The travel and time spent with people of other households provides a dramatic acceleration in the rate of spread. And we're entering winter, with drier air and more time spent indoors.
Look at these two charts. Both are log scales, in which the usual "hockey stick" exponential curve is a straight line. I've overlaid lines to show the slope that is doubling every 4 weeks.
The first chart is cases. Most parts of the country have been on this slope since September, and some are now closer to 3-week doublings. This is important, because case growth drives hospitalizations and death rates after a lag.
The second chart is deaths. For the south (orange) you can see the decline ending and the increase just now starting. For the other regions and the nation as a whole, you can see them approaching or reaching the 4-week doubling rate.
Things are getting worse rapidly, and it's unlikely that government authorities will have the nerve to make any significant changes over the holiday.
We're approaching 1000 deaths/day. Little is being done to slow the growth, and there are reasons to expect it could grow even faster. It's possible we could see 2,000 deaths/day by mid December and conceivable that it could rise further by mid January. Bold action on January 1 would mean the death rate would continue climbing into late January.
It would be so tragic to have 100,000 needless deaths per month so close to the availability of effective vaccines.