My Turn: Reality, science, and the state’s COVID response

For the Monitor
Published: 11/18/2020 6:20:11 AM

The reality is that Gov. Chris Sununu won by a large majority, as the polls predicted. Those same polls last winter, prior to COVID, predicted a close race with either of the Democratic challengers.

The perception of reality and common knowledge was that the performance of the governor and his public health and Department of Health and Human Services teams was so good in protecting us here in New Hampshire compared to the rest of the country that he, unlike the president, deserved to be overwhelmingly re-elected.

Perceived reality and common knowledge are sometimes wrong.

A recent Monitor opinion column by Susannah Colt titled “Our better angels have work to do” (Monitor Opinion, Nov. 11) questioned this perception and common knowledge. She cited data from Worldometers.info comparing New Hampshire cases and deaths with neighboring Vermont and Maine, and she asked, “How come New Hampshire has more than Vermont and Maine combined?”

I think she raises a good question based on her data. There was a time when the United States and the world looked for accurate data from our independent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since last summer the CDC no longer collects data directly from health facilities. Instead data now goes directly to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. What you mostly read and hear now is data collected by the Public Health School at Johns Hopkins. They’ve been doing it for 100 years and seem to be trusted.

Using their data it seems that the percentage of patients (new COVID cases per total population) in New Hampshire since March is two times worse than Vermont and 1½ times worse than Maine.

If you look north and south, we are two times better than Massachusetts and 1½ times better than Quebec. However, Massachusetts and Quebec have huge cities (Boston and Montreal) and cities until recently have had more of the virus. Of our surrounding states based on population and size of cities, Maine is the most comparable to New Hampshire.

During the governor’s press conference last week, he again talked a lot about how well we have done so far and how we need to continue being individually vigilant. He seemed to be backing off from state-supported contact tracing and urged local school districts and communities to do their own. He said, “There aren’t enough people to conduct investigations for every person who gets the virus, so contact tracing is being prioritized to situations where people are most at risk.”

Why are there not enough contact tracers? Also he was clear that he will not do a statewide mask mandate saying there was no evidence it makes a difference. All our surrounding states and Quebec have had a mask mandates. We are worse off than Vermont and Maine and in some ways north and south of us, too. What’s the harm in doing a statewide mask mandate other than maybe losing some of our “Live Free or Die” image?

The reality is that the governor won the election on the perceived reality that he and his team have done a good job. I’m not so sure we have done all that well leading up to the election. I didn’t hear anything in last week’s press conference that makes me confident we will perform well in the future. The science-based facts should be making us all skeptical of the New Hampshire response, especially with the current virus surge.

Albert Einstein once said, “All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have.”

To get out of this mess we need to trust the science and the facts science generates. It is our most precious thing and our lives depend on it.

(Nick Perencevich lives in Concord.)




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