COVID-19 indicators for New Hampshire have fallen over the past week, but the number of new cases per day has remained above the highest levels seen during the first wave at the end of 2020.
According to data from the state’s official COVID response dashboard, New Hampshire averaged 1,054 new cases per day for the week ending Monday, down 17 percent from a week earlier. The seven-day average share of antigen and PCR tests coming back positive was 12.1 percent, down slightly from 12.7 percent a week ago. 399 people were hospitalized for the disease as of Tuesday, down from 475 the previous week.
Dr. Jose Mercado, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s COVID-19 Response Leader, said that the ongoing surge is being driven mostly by infections among the unvaccinated. This is true even though everyone’s risk levels are higher due to the colder weather, which increases the risk of spread of infection as more activities move indoors.
Martha Wassell, Director of Infection Prevention at Dover’s Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, added that the state’s numbers are even higher than the predicted winter surge because of the Omicron variant, which is now moving “in a tsunami-like fashion around the globe and across the country.”
Three research studies published earlier this week suggest that serious Omicron infections are less common than serious infections from other variants. But Wassell warned that even with this positive news, the coming weeks are likely to be grim.
“While early studies indicate the Omicron variant typically has caused less severe symptoms,” she said, “the sheer number of infections is likely to cause an overwhelming increase in patients requiring medical care.”
Mercado also encouraged people to be wary. “We should also remain vigilant and monitor for symptoms after seeing family over the holidays,” he said.
The seven-day moving average for new daily cases in NH had fallen in the first half of the year, bottoming out at just 16 at the end of June, but has quickly risen since then. That number peaked at 1,397 on Dec. 5. The average has fallen in the last week and a half, but the state is still averaging roughly 200 cases per day more than it was at the height of the first wave in December 2020.
Hospitals are also under slightly less strain this week than last. Even though the number of daily hospitalizations has more than doubled in the last five weeks, up from just 186 on Nov. 2, more staffed adult ICU beds have become available in the last week. As of Tuesday, 6.7 percent of the state’s supply was still available, up from less than one percent a week ago.
New Hampshire’s per capita case count of 88 per 100,000 has dropped to the seventh-highest in the nation, according to data from the New York Times. The highest numbers are now coming from Rhode Island and New York, at 124 and 112, respectively.
The number of daily deaths in New Hampshire has steadily climbed since mid-July. As of last Friday, an average of 5.6 people were dying of COVID each day, down from a high of eight on December 9. This is fewer than the peak of 12 deaths per day during the first wave.
As of Wednesday, there were 8,495 known active cases. There have been more than 188,000 confirmed cases and 1,800 COVID-related deaths in New Hampshire since the pandemic began.
Vaccination rates continue to rise, though state and federal vaccination data for New Hampshire remain out of sync. Data from DHHS shows that 62.0 percent of Granite Staters have received at least one dose, while the number from the CDC is much higher, at 95 percent. Similarly, DHHS reports that 55.7 percent of Granite Staters are fully vaccinated, while the CDC’s number is eleven points higher, at 67 percent. The discrepancy between DHHS and the CDC in terms of total doses administered is more than half a million.
Some early data shows that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines offer significant increases in protection against the Omicron variant. Another early study suggests that Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine does not offer increased protection against Omicron, but none of these studies have been peer-reviewed, which means that researchers are still deciding how confident we can be in the studies’ claims.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that all three vaccines are highly effective in protecting people against COVID-19, and they may also make the illness milder in those who do get sick.
“If you are eligible, you should get the booster,” said Mercado, citing his own observations of his hospital’s patients with severe infection, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.
“Getting vaccinated and boosted and encouraging your friends and family to do the same is a step you can take right now,” Wassell added. “These conversations are difficult, uncomfortable, and yet central to reaching the essential community vaccination rates and protecting one another.”
People can register for a vaccine by visiting vaccines.nh.gov or calling 211.
For more guidance from Dr. Mercado and his colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock about how to safely celebrate the holidays this year, please see the latest episode of their podcast, “The Cure,” which is available online.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.