Spring surge of COVID-19 comes to NH

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Kevin Landrigan, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·3 min read
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Mar. 27—CONCORD — The spring surge of COVID-19 cases has returned to New Hampshire, a development Gov. Chris Sununu said he fully expected.

Meanwhile, the outlook for deaths and hospitalizations in the near future is less predictable — and potentially more worrisome.

On Thursday, the state reported 418 new cases, the first time since Feb. 3 that that there were more than 400 cases in a single day.

The seven-day average of positive cases was 326, up 17% from the previous week.

Another factor being closely watched is the percentage of positive tests, which has been on the rise as well.

Last Thursday, the seven-day average was 4.4%. Two weeks ago, that average was 3.3 %.

"It's surely a cause for concern," Sununu said.

New hospitalizations had been dropping for weeks, from a pandemic high of 314 in early January.

In the past week, the daily average of those hospitalized leveled off.

Over the past week, a total of 500 hospitalizations were reported. The previous week, there were 502.

The number of deaths jumped in the past week, though it takes more than a week to signal a trend, according to state officials.

In the past week, 27 people died of COVID-19, compared to 12 the previous week.

State officials noted that five of last week's deaths , were traced to cases that occurred before March.

Even subtracting those, deaths were nearly double the previous week.

With this news, Sununu last Friday signed an executive order extending both the state's declaration of emergency and its mask mandate.

"I think we are continually going to see a slow number of rising cases for the next couple of weeks," Sununu said.

"This is the spring surge, the same thing we saw a year ago when cases first spiked."

Sununu said the number of positive cases in March 2020 was probably higher than what the state reported because it wasn't doing significant testing during those early weeks of the pandemic.

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state's epidemiologist, said he wouldn't make the same prediction as Sununu but said it was clear the state is in a "transitionary" period, waiting to see whether cases will continue to spike until all adults have the chance to be vaccinated.

"We are seeing increased community transmission. Clearly, our numbers for infections in long-term settings are going down, and we believe that's a reflection of the vaccine," Chan said.

Case numbers have been growing among the younger age categories. Those 20 to 29 years old now have the most infections (19.8%) of any age group.

However, only 28 of them (2.3% of total cases) have been hospitalized, and only one has died.

As of last Friday, only three institutional settings were experiencing outbreaks. In January and February, that number often was as high as two dozen.

The highest volume of new positive cases was in Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford Counties, which have the state's highest population densities, Chan said.

Manchester had the most current infections with 253, followed by Nashua with 210 and Durham with 117.

College towns have been hit with an increasing number of cases in recent weeks. Both Plymouth (650 cases per 100,000) and Durham (1,147 per 100,000) had much higher infection rates than Manchester (331 per 100,000) and Nashua (333 per 100,000).

Chan said as more people are vaccinated, it's important to emphasize residents need to keep taking precautions, wearing face coverings in public and keeping their distance.

"Some have taken that (vaccination) to mean that there is no need for precaution or caution," Chan said.

"This is why we continue to stress the importance of heeding the public health advice."

klandrigan@unionleader.com