My Turn: Why won’t Sununu take scientific approach to measuring virus

For the Monitor
Published: 7/10/2020 8:00:21 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 8:00:09 PM

Haven’t you wondered why with our spectacular numbers, New Hampshire has never appeared on any list of states who are getting COVID under control? I have read with interest the Concord Monitor’s David Brooks’ updates using four different criteria for opening up used by our state, not one of which is the infection rate calculation that epidemiologists recommend as a determinant in opening up. The reason? Gov. Chris Sununu does not appear to even pay lip service to recommended practices and scientific evidence.

The infection rate is based on the percentage of the population tested (not the number of tests given) and the percentage of those which are positive cases (10% of the population tested with a positive rate of 10% or less). This is where N.H. gets it wrong:

First, we do not know the percentage of the population tested, only the number of tests given.

To illustrate how using tests given corrupts the population tested percentage, I use my gas station attendant as an example; as an essential worker, he gets tested twice a week. We don’t know how many duplicate and repeat tests were given or included in the total tests administered, so we don’t know the number of people tested or the percentage of the population tested.

Second, the viral tests are around 30% inaccurate and the antibody tests are around 50% inaccurate (per FDA, negative swab tests are often followed up with molecular tests; antibody tests sometimes need to be given twice…neither are protocol in N.H.). Unless you validate the lab and the test’s accuracy or you are doing constant testing of individuals based on symptoms or strategy (e.g. contact tracing), the chances of undetected viral infection is high. We have no accurate count of positive cases.

Local factors also affect the number of positive cases: N.H. imposed a protocol for testing that lagged a month and a half behind the research and science.

Until the beginning of May, one in our state had to be exposed within the last 14 days before qualifying for a test even though science said the virus was in community spread in March. This is a month and a half when people with symptoms were not being routinely tested unless they had been exposed.

So what has Sununu done besides inflating the number of people tested and deflating the number of positive cases? It’s easier to say what he hasn’t done. He hasn’t required masks. He didn’t validate or look into the validity of tests provided in New Hampshire. He hasn’t been transparent about his deviation from science and the infection rate percentage. He hasn’t followed protocols that would allow for extensive viral testing to determine the population affected in the state. He hasn’t done contact tracing. What has he done? He’s opened up the state on a wish and a prayer.

Given the above, I was taken aback at the headline this week in the Concord Monitor that the state can expect the second wave of COVID to be worse. There is no way this statement can be made by knowledgeable people given the scarcity of any scientific basis that we’ve had a first wave.

New Hampshire has been lucky — it’s a sparsely populated state; mistakes made here don’t have the disastrous and immediate effects they have in, say, New York City. We’ve also benefited from the diligent action taken by surrounding New England states. We’ve been spared so far.

You didn’t have to be an epidemiologist to know cases would start rising in New Hampshire at the end of June and beginning of July once we started opening up. And they have. With the way it’s being mishandled, prepare for a tsunami. That’s what the headline should have said.

Wear a mask.

(Elizabeth L. Hodges lives in Concord.)

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