Weekly Covid Roundup: Numbers continue to drop in New Hampshire

Hospitalizations see big drop, new cases fall 42 percent from a week earlier

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Daily Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continued their rapid decline in New Hampshire last week, but doctors warn that the trend could rapidly change direction again in the future.

According to data from the state’s official Covid response dashboard, New Hampshire averaged 786 new cases per day for the week ending Tuesday, down 42 percent from a week earlier. The seven-day average for the share of antigen and PCR tests coming back positive was 12.8 percent, down from 14.8 a week ago. According to NH Hospital Association data as of Wednesday, a total of 327 people with Covid-19 were hospitalized, including 175 with active infections and 152 who are Covid-recovering, which means that they are no longer infectious but still need critical care. The number of total hospitalizations is down from 423 a week ago.

These decreases have meant that the burden on hospitals has lightened considerably.

“We’ve gone from 30 Covid patients two weeks ago to less than half that today,” wrote Dr. Keith Stahl, associate chief medical officer at Catholic Medical Center, in emailed comments on Feb. 9.

“In parallel, we are also seeing a significant drop-off in the number of employees who are out with or because of Covid-19. In early January, you might recall, that number was around 150. Now it’s less than two dozen—a definite improvement.”

Dr. Tim Scherer, chief medical officer at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, said that thanks to the decline “we have been able to get our routine services back up and running, such as the operating room and endoscopy.”

But he and other doctors say that their hospitals are still at a point they would have considered normal before the pandemic.

Even though Scherer says his hospital has returned to “mostly normal operations,” he qualified that in emailed comments by noting that they are still much busier now with Covid than last summer, noting that “we only had a handful of patients then and still have over ten inpatients currently.”

Dr. Jose Mercado, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Covid response leader, added that the recent decline has encouraged his hospital to start thinking about how their strategy for care might change in the coming months.

“It is true that we are starting to see a decline in cases reported and hospitalizations,” Mercado wrote in an emailed statement. As a result of this decline, he said that “we are starting to have discussions around how to transition into an endemic state this week and consider how similar and/or different the approach should be for Covid-19 when compared to other respiratory viruses.”

All the doctors warned, though, that the situation could rapidly change again without warning.

“In the last two weeks, it has been reassuring to see the cases waning,” said Dr. Artemio Mendoza, infectious disease specialist at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. “Having said this, given the history of Covid-19 infection, I would not let my guard down. Not to state the obvious, but the situation in late December to mid-January is ‘night and day’.” Hopefully, we are truly heading in the right direction.”

The statewide per capita case count is down by 56 percent over the last two weeks and now sits at 75 per 100,000, roughly equivalent with the national average of 69 according to an analysis of CDC data by the New York Times. The states with the highest numbers are Alaska and Mississippi, at 177 and 169, respectively.

New Hampshire’s daily case numbers are now roughly equal to those seen during the peak of last year’s winter surge.

If case numbers were to increase again, the good news continues to be that hospitals would be relatively well-equipped to deal with the surge. According to data from the NH Hospital Association that was updated on Wednesday, there are 26 staffed adult ICU beds available in the state, up slightly from 23 last week, out of a statewide total of 217. Ventilators remain plentiful, as they have been for most of the last few months.

Unvaccinated patients made up 33.1 percent of all hospitalizations for active Covid infections, while patients with some level of vaccination made up a significantly larger share, at 54.8 percent. Within this group, patients with their vaccinations fully up to date comprised 31.4 percent of the total. (Vaccination status was unknown for 12.0 percent.)

There is little data available around the state as to how many of the patients in the hospital with Covid are there because of Covid symptoms or because of other conditions. According to NHHA’s Vanessa Stafford, the 30 hospitals in their network are not currently reporting this info to NHHA.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, for example, does not actively track patients who were admitted with an admission diagnosis of Covid-19, according to an emailed statement by Lixi Kong, a data scientist at DHMC. DHMC is the largest hospital in the state by the number of licensed beds, according to a 2020 census by NHHA.

Meanwhile, Catholic Medical Center, the second-largest hospital in the state by the number of licensed beds, does track that data. According to CMC’s Stahl, as of Wednesday, 69 percent of CMC’s patients hospitalized with Covid have Covid as their primary diagnosis.

“Just one of those patients is fully updated with their booster,” Stahl wrote. “In fact, since the state started accounting for booster shots in daily reporting, we have had very, very few admitted who had a booster.”

An average of 4.7 Granite Staters were dying from Covid each day as of Sunday, according to the latest data on the state’s Covid dashboard. This number is down significantly from 11.6 at the end of December, but remains far above the lows hit last summer, when less than one person was dying of Covid per day.

As of Wednesday, there were 5,818 active Covid cases diagnosed in New Hampshire, down from 9,204 a week ago. There have been 285,863 confirmed cases and 2,284 Covid-related deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

Vaccinations and Free Test Kits

Gov. Chris Sununu and NH Liquor Commission Chair Joseph Mollica announced on Feb. 4 that an initial round of 500,000 Covid-19 test kits had been put up for sale at cost at all 67 NH Liquor & Wine Outlet locations.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, customers can purchase Covid-19 test kits for $11.29 while supplies last. The state has also made Covid tests available through all nine locations for the Doorway, a state-run program that offers substance abuse treatment. There is no age requirement for the purchase of Covid-19 home test kits and any customer may purchase as many kits as they wish.

Data from the NH Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control still do not agree on how many Granite Staters have been vaccinated, but both datasets show that the total share of the population that is fully vaccinated has continued to slowly increase in recent weeks.

DHHS reports that 56.6 percent of Granite Staters are fully vaccinated this week, as compared to 55.5 percent in mid-December. Data from the CDC shows a similar trend, increasing slightly from 66 to 69 percent during the same period. After an initial surge in vaccinations, the share of the population that is fully vaccinated has increased slowly since last July. The gap between DHHS and CDC data in terms of the total number of shots administered is now roughly 810,000 doses.

According to the CDC, “fully vaccinated” means someone has received two doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine, while “up to date” means they have also received a booster or additional dose.

The share of Granite Staters who are now up to date is 20 percent, according to the latest CDC data.

The CDC continues to recommend that anyone over 5 years old get vaccinated. For adults, they recommend getting one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), rather than Johnson & Johnson, but the CDC emphasizes that any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. For children between the ages of 5 and 17, the CDC recommends getting the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.

Everyone who is eligible should get a booster shot, the CDC says. According to their latest guidance, the amount of time you should wait after finishing your primary series varies by vaccine. For Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the wait is 5 months, while the wait for Johnson & Johnson vaccines is shorter, at two months.

“We must always remain vigilant and cognizant of the fact that this virus is not going away, at least not in the immediate future,” said Wentworth-Douglass’ Mendoza.

“We have data now to verify how those who chose to remain up-to-date with their vaccination were most protected,” says Mercado from DHMC. “Vaccines save lives. Vaccines will help prevent unnecessary deaths.”

People can register for a vaccine or for a booster by visiting vaccines.nh.govor calling 211.

This article is being shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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