COVID tracking: Test numbers slip but other factors remain good

  • The average number of people being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 has fallen to the lowest point since shortly after the pandemic began. CourtesyDHHS

Monitor staff
Published: 7/5/2020 3:36:32 PM

The Concord Monitor is keeping track of four measurements as indicators of how the COVID-19 pandemic is progressing. This is our fifth weekly update and the news continues to be good, although state testing numbers have slipped.

At the same time, news from parts of the country where the virus is surging after people rushed to get back to “normal” should give us pause. Clearly if we’re not careful it wouldn’t take long for New Hampshire to reset to early April, when cases were rising fast and everything slammed shut to contain the virus.

The coronavirus has not disappeared or mutated into something harmless, and we haven’t become immune. It’s just that our actions are keeping it from spreading.

Unfortunately, we have to continue wearing those stupid, uncomfortable masks, and not getting too close to most people, and washing our hands until we’re sick of the sight of a bar of soap. And we have to keep it up until a vaccine is widely available.

Doing all that while minimizing economic damage is a complicated dance with plenty of room for debate. (My personal debate is whether I dare attend my favorite movie theater as it reopens; I flip-flop on that one 10 times a day.)

Figuring out how to handle difficult situations is what grown-ups do. And at the moment, New Hampshire is looking pretty grown up.

Here’s my weekly update on how we’re doing on four goals, looking at data collected in New Hampshire by the state as of last Thursday. (Because of the holiday weekend, my data is a little old this week.)

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!

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. The two-week average is much lower than that: just 31 cases per day.

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? Not any more.

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 1,918, putting us below the somewhat arbitrary mark. That’s disappointing because last week we were above 2,100.

There’s another issue, as I noted last week. Because many of the current tests are being done in long-term care facilities that have long been the focus of health officials, many people are being tested for the second or third time. As a result, the weekly average of people being tested is only 1,206.

If our goal is to have least 150 people per 100,000 being tested daily, rather than 150 tests per 100,000 being run daily, then we’re still well short. More testing needs to be made available, and more of us need to take advantage of it.

The goal is important because all the others depend on it. If you’re not testing enough then the rest of your data is suspect.

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 seven weeks.

Another metric doing very well is hospitalization. As I write this there has not been a new hospitalization case in the state for three days, the first time that has happened since the pandemic arrived.

Unfortunately our death rate is not slowing very much. Fatalities are almost entirely contained to long-term care facilities like nursing homes, which have been devastated by the pandemic.

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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