Tracking COVID in N.H.: Three of four goals are now met

Published: 6/21/2020 7:45:45 PM

The Concord Monitor is keeping track of four measurements often cited as indicators of how the COVID-19 pandemic is progressing. This is our third weekly update.

When all four measures are met consistently we’ll have a good argument that the pandemic is under control in New Hampshire.

Note that I said “under control” – not “gone away.”

No matter what these numbers say we can’t go back to “normal,” whatever that is, until there’s a widely available vaccine. Even if we can control the pandemic by doing certain things – mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. – we are not eliminating it. If we stop those actions then COVID-19 will come right back, as too many other states are discovering.

Enough of the lecture. Here is my weekly update on how we’re doing on these four goals, looking at data collected in New Hampshire by the state as of Friday, June 19.

Goal 1

A two-week drop in cases as measured by the 14-day running average, which would indicate the virus is abating.

 Have we met this goal? Yes!

For the first time since I started this, we’ve met a new goal. In fact, we’ve met two others.

As of Friday, the average number of new cases over the previous two weeks had fallen consistently since June 4.

Goal 2

Fewer than four new cases per 100,000 people each day, which would show that the disease is below dangerous levels.

Have we met this goal? Yes!

New Hampshire has 1.36 million people, so four new cases per 100,000 people is a ceiling of 54 new cases a day. As of Friday, the two-week average is 44 cases per day. Hooray!

Goal 3

At least 150 PCR tests performed per 100,000 people per day, which spot current COVID-19 cases. This figure indicates that we’re doing enough testing to be confident in conclusions.

Have we met this goal? No.

Performing 150 PCR tests per 100,000 people means 2,000 tests a day. The daily average as of the end of last week was only 1,653.

This figure has actually declined over the past two weeks even though a new testing protocol for nursing homes has started. This is worrisome because the previous two goals depend on it – unless we do enough testing, data about the number of cases becomes suspect.

The state is also seeing about 250 antibody tests, the sort that indicate if you have had COVID-19 in the past, being done each day by various labs. Their significance is still debatable, as it’s not clear how long antibody protection lasts.

Goal 4

A positive rate of PCR tests below 5%, indicating that the virus is not spreading rapidly in the general population.

Have we met this goal? Yes.

The positive rate has been below 5% as measured on three-day averages for all but a few days in the past six weeks.

So right now New Hampshire is getting a gold star sticker on three out of our four goals. We’re almost there.

Unfortunately, people are still dying from the disease at high rates. There are hints that the fatality curve may be starting to flatten – the cumulative number of deaths from COVID-19 rose by 53 over the past two weeks, whereas it had risen by more than 70 in the preceeding fortnights – but it’s too early to say. 

More than 80% of deaths have been people in long-term care facilities, usually over the age of 70.

The hospitalization rate since New Hampshire began keeping track is that 10% of cases put people in the hospital, which is pretty high, but it has been much lower in recent weeks. The absolute number of new hospitalizations is slowly going down – the two-week average of daily new cases has gone from 8 at the end of May to 5 last week.

To see a discussion of how I decided on these four measurements, check this earlier column.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)



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