COVID Tracker: Those darn subvariants mean the pandemic isn’t fading like it should

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Monitor staff
Published: 7/3/2022 4:02:54 PM
Modified: 7/3/2022 4:00:14 PM

Anecdotes aren’t data but here’s my anecdote anyway: In the past week I’ve had two big stories canceled or delayed because a source got COVID-19, and that hasn’t happened since the earliest days of the pandemic.

When I mentioned this online I heard from a number of people commenting that they or family members or friends had come down with or encountered more COVID cases than any time in the pandemic. More bad news anecdotes.

On the other hand, here’s good news data from the measure favored by the COVID Tracker: New Hampshire COVID hospitalizations have declined by almost a third in the past two weeks, from slightly over 100 to slightly over 70.

The numbers are still twice as high as they were in March and four times as high as they were at this time last year but the downward trend is real.

Finally, there’s indecisive data from wastewater treatment plants. The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority says levels of RNA from SARS-CoV2 virus in eastern Massachusetts have been flat since early June, at about four times the level of March but just half the level of May.

The level of virus in Concord’s wastewater as reported by Biobot, the company that does the lab analysis, has see-sawed frantically since data reporting began in February. It’s gone from a low of 60 per milliliter up to 2,207 and then down to 404 and then back up again. It’s currently at the highest point ever, 2,242 per ml, but those sorts of wild swings make me leery of putting too much weight on single data points.

So what does this mish-mash of tales and numbers say about the pandemic as we prepare to (very carefully, I hope) set off fireworks?

What it seems to say is that the latest entries in the parade of COVID variants is reducing the effectiveness of vaccinations and boosters, keeping the pandemic circulation in New Hampshire.

The latest subvariants called BA.4 and BA.5 (I guess we’ve given up on Greek letters) make up about 13% of new cases, according to the latest figures, a sharp increase over the previous  week. Even if your vaccine-aided immune system recognizes Delta and Omicron and BA.2, it might not recognize BA.4 or 5 when they come sniffing around. Result: reinfection.

That’s why we’re not seeing the sharp summertime decline in cases that we saw last year. What it means about this fall, when we head back indoors and infections rise, is hard to say.

Alas, we’ve pretty much given up on trying to contain COVID. New Hampshire has closed the state-managed mobile vaccination clinics and home-based vaccination program to coincide with the end of federal funding, and 2-1-1 call center no longer triage calls for COVID-19 and instead refer callers to their primary care provider or other resources.

The good news, of course, is that vaccines are now available for under-5-year-olds. I hope every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or caregiver of any sort is rushing to get one, to protect this vulnerable part of the population and dampen one of the places where variants are born.

For those of us above kindergarten age, keep wearing those masks when you’re in crowds, keep updating all the shots, keep encouraging others to believe medical science and behave like responsible adults. And enjoy the holiday.


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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