COVID tracker: As the situation gets better we’re edging out into the world with masks off (mostly)

  • The number of new cases is falling fast but it's still higher than it was during almost any point in 2020. NH DHHS—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/16/2021 11:00:14 AM

The most amazing thing happened last week: My wife and I went to a movie. Indoors. And I ate a candy bar, which required removing my mask within sight of strangers!

It felt very daring.

Many of us are going to be feeling daring in coming weeks now that the CDC says vaccinated people can ditch their masks in most circumstances.

They didn’t blow the “all clear” whistle but most people will act as if they did, which is one reason state health officials expressed some dismay. State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan pointed out at Thursday’s weekly briefing that most of the state still has “significant community transmission,” which is epidemiology-speak for “people are still exhaling the novel coronavirus all over the place.”

He thinks it’s too early to give everybody permission to go without masks.

Everybody? Sure! We all know that people who object to masks will leap at this chance, claiming to be vaccinated even if they’re not. You can be sure that a sizable percentage of the maskless people in any restaurant or movie theater or store should not, under CDC guidelines, actually be maskless.

This matters because, as the Monitor’s weekly COVID tracker shows, the pandemic is not over. New Hampshire is still worse off in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths than we were in November, when winter shutdowns were beginning.

Things are getting better now thanks to vaccines, whereas in November they were getting worse. But with less than half the state population fully vaccinated, with the vaccination rate among adults stalling out, and with no vaccine available for the more than 100,000 people under the age of 12, it’s not like we’re on an automatic glide path to normal.

And New Hampshire is still part of an interconnected world where the virus is raging, sometimes out of control and sometimes producing variants that could pose new risks. Ask some of the state residents who have recently lost family members in south Asia whether COVID-19 is over.

As for me, as a fully vaccinated person I’ll be taking off my mask outdoors unless I’m stuck in a mob and will take it off indoors in public unless it’s potentially crowded, such as in grocery stores. At the moment most stores still require a mask and of course I will do as they ask.

I’m probably safe without a mask anywhere thanks to my boosted immune system, but other people can’t be certain that I’ve had my shot so I’ll wear it to reassure them, if nothing else.

Here are the COVID-19 numbers in New Hampshire as of the weekend. Updated charts and other information can be seen on the Monitor’s COVID-19 page at

How are we doing on vaccinations? Slowing down.

Vaccination should pick up now that a shot has been approved for kids aged 12-15, but our vaccination rate is slowing down. In the past month 180,000 people have gotten at least one shot – in the month before that, 289,000 did.

The slowdown was expected but is happening earlier than hoped. Getting to 70% full vaccination, a minimum point at which we can really relax, will be tough.

Number of new cases – what’s the trend? Getting better but still high.

We are almost down to an average of 200 new cases each day, on a two-week average. The figure has fallen by 75% since early January and by 30% this month alone.

However, that’s still a lot of cases. In fact, it’s twice as many as New Hampshire was reporting one year ago – although to be fair, a year ago the state was still developing its monitoring network so numbers were probably under-counted back then.

Number of hospitalizations – what’s the trend? Falling steadily.

Only 62 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 as I write, less than at any time since the start of the winter surge in November.

Number of deaths – what’s the trend? Low but not falling.

Between one and two people are dying on average every day from COVID-19. As long as the virus is circulating, and as things currently stand it’s likely to be around a long time, this number may not get much lower.

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

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