Weekly Covid Roundup: NH cases, hospitalizations continue steep drop
‘The numbers continue to head in the right direction’
New Covid cases and hospitalizations in New Hampshire dropped again over the past week, as the winter surge continues to recede.
The state averaged 425 new cases per day in the week ending Tuesday, compared to 745 a week earlier — a 43 percent drop — according to data from the NH Department of Health and Human Services.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire hospitals are also seeing fewer patients with Covid-19. As of Wednesday, 115 patients had confirmed active infections and another 138 were recovering from the disease — meaning they were no longer considered contagious but still receiving treatment — according to NH Hospital Association data. The total of 253 patients was down from 327 a week earlier.
“The numbers continue to head in the right direction,” Lauren Collins-Cline, communications director for Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, said in an email Tuesday. “We’re holding steady between 10-13 active Covid patients, which is vastly better than just a few weeks ago. We are also seeing very few staff calling out for Covid-related reasons.”
Still, Covid-19 is still circulating widely in New Hampshire, she said, and people should get vaccinated and boosted. More than 3,200 people in New Hampshire had active infections as of Wednesday.
The omicron variant sent case counts to new highs, with average daily cases exceeding 3,000 for part of January. Hospitalizations also surged this winter. The total of active and recovering Covid patients topped 550 around the end of January, according to the Hospital Association. Both measures have dropped significantly in the weeks since.
“Compared to our peak in the last week of January, we have had almost a two-thirds decrease in hospitalized patients, which is huge since this decrease only occurred in a matter of three to four weeks,” Dr. Carol Barsky, the chief quality and value officer for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system, said in an emailed statement. “That does increase our capacity to care for patients with other serious illnesses.”
Deaths have also trended down, though remain well above the levels of last summer. DHHS recorded 3.3 Covid-related deaths per day for the week ending Sunday, down from 6.4 a week earlier.
Dr. Tom Wold, chief medical officer at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, said the downward trends are good news, but the pandemic continues to strain the health care system.
“The number of new Covid-19 cases is decreasing rapidly, but we continue to have patients that have progressed to longer treatment courses and positive patients who are no longer infectious are awaiting placement for post-acute care (rehab and skilled nursing facilities),” Wold said in emailed comments. “Thankfully the severity of illness has lessened and fewer patients are in the ICU or on ventilators.”
As community spread goes down, the hospital has also seen fewer patients coming to the emergency room for Covid-related symptoms and fewer staff out sick, he said.
But health care providers are grappling with a “historic deficit of staffing with record numbers of people disengaging from healthcare, choosing other career options or taking a break due to the continued stress of the pandemic,” Wold said.
Patients are also showing up needing higher levels of care for non-Covid health issues, possibly due to delayed treatment for chronic conditions during the pandemic, he added. “Ultimately, although cases are down there will likely be continued challenges ahead.”
Of the confirmed Covid patients in New Hampshire hospitals, 29 percent were vaccinated and boosted, 23 percent were partially up to date on vaccinations and 34 percent were unvaccinated, according to the NH Hospital Association data. (The vaccination status of the remainder was unknown.)
The association’s data does not track how many of those patients were hospitalized primarily due to Covid-19 symptoms, and how many were admitted for other reasons but tested positive for Covid-19.
About 84 percent of staffed intensive care unit beds in the state were available as of Wednesday, the association reported.
After plateauing in the summer and early fall, the pace of vaccinations in New Hampshire picked up in late fall and winter, after the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
State and federal data show the same trend, but remain inconsistent when it comes to the overall share of the state’s population that is vaccinated.
According to the state, 56.7 percent of Granite Staters were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, compared to 49.4 percent on Dec. 1 and 54.5 percent on Jan. 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, says 69.5 percent of state residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 64.8 percent on Dec. 1 and 67.3 a month later.
While that puts New Hampshire 5 percentage points above the national average, it lags behind all other New England states, where vaccination rates range from 77 to 80 percent.
And only about 21 percent of fully vaccinated Granite Staters have received a booster shot — well below the national average of 43 percent. The other New England states range from 48 to 58 percent.
“Every eligible New Hampshire citizen should complete a full vaccination course and get boosted as soon as possible,” Barsky, of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said. “We need to maintain social distancing, masking, home testing and handwashing protocols, particularly when in large gatherings.
“The more people get vaccinated, the faster we can get rid of these social behavioral limits that people don’t like.”
This article is being shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.