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COVID tracker: COVID cases are rising: is it time to panic? 

  • Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and syringes at a vaccination site inside the Incheon Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon, South Korea, on June 8. SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg

Monitor staff
Published: 8/2/2021 8:49:32 AM

Two months before New Hampshire reached an all-time record for the number of COVID-19 cases, the state reported a daily average of 63 cases. At the time, the number signified the beginning of the long-awaited COVID surge.

“The long-feared autumn rise in New Hampshire COVID-19 has started to arrive... for the first time in months we are missing two of our goals,” a COVID tracker from early October read.

Just this week the state again reported 63 new cases of COVID-19. With the right zooming and cropping, it’s easy to compare the current peak to the early days of the winter surge. But is it time to panic?

“I wouldn’t say we need to panic because again,” said Dr. Aalok Khol, an infectious disease expert at Cheshire Medical Center. “What we didn’t have last October was vaccines.”

The likely culprit responsible for the rising cases is the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 that has also been known to cause more serious illness than previously dominant variants.

To give you an idea of how quickly this variant spreads: when I wrote about the variant last week, Delta comprised more than 40% of cases in New England. Now? It comprises more than 70% of cases.

The good news is vaccinated Granite Staters are very well protected against COVID-19 – even the Delta strain.

A study out of the United Kingdom found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were about 96% effective at preventing hospitalization due to the Delta variant. Another study published in the Lancet published similar results. Scientists who have performed laboratory experiments on the Moderna vaccine concluded it was 72% effective against the variant, though more research needs to be done.

A new study from NYU researchers found that while someone who has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is better protected than an unvaccinated person, the shot may be much less effective against the Delta variant than previous strains.

Khol said, though he received the Pfizer shots, he would not act any differently if he received the J&J shot instead.

“At the end of the day, as long as their efficacy against severe disease hospitalization and death is matched up, I think that’s the end goal,” he said.

Khol said hopefully a large vaccinated population means that cases won’t translate to hospitalizations and deaths at the same rate as they did during the winter. However, he is careful to add a disclaimer to any optimistic prognosis.

“We all know these waves can turn pretty quickly and take a turn for the worse before you expect it,” he said.

There is a sizable group, about 45%, of Granite Staters who have not been fully vaccinated. They will be the most at-risk if cases start to surge.

If the other U.S. states are any indication of where New Hampshire is headed, our hospitals and ICU will soon be flooded with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

He said the key to avoiding a surge like the one we experienced in the winter is to apply what we have learned about COVID-19 over the last year. He said public health guidelines need to be tailored to each area’s situation.

“It’s been 18 months in and we’re not as blindsided by it as we were last March,” he said. “But if we don’t put that data and knowledge to use, we’re going to be back to square one.”

What’s the trend on the spread and impact of the disease? We’re headed in the wrong direction.

New Hampshire hasn’t seen numbers this high since May (when the statewide mask mandate was still in place). Hospitalizations for COVID-19 seem higher than they were at the beginning of the month but it’s too soon to tell whether they are increasing.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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