New Hampshire’s COVID numbers are getting worse

  • DHHS—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/8/2020 9:02:41 PM

Here’s an interesting question: How many strangers must you pass on the street today before you pass one who has COVID-19?

And here’s a very exact-seeming answer: 55 ½.

That number comes from the 1.8% positive rate of the state’s PCR tests, the ones that detect genetic material from the CoV2-SARS virus.

More than 8,000 PCR results are being released every day, which seems enough to give a good sample of the state. They find that 98.2% of people who get a test are not infected. A little arithmetic shows that you don’t have to worry until the 56th person crosses your path.

I don’t think I’ve seen a total of 56 strangers since work-at-home began, so I’m safe! Hooray!

This is ridiculous in several ways, of course, and should not be used to guide your behavior.

For one thing, testing is not so widespread and uniform that it reflects accurately on every part of the state – about one-third of tests are done at UNH’s Durham campu. For another, infection rates differ greatly among groups: Passing 55 emergency room staffers has a very different risk profile than passing 55 stuck-at-home seniors like me.

Finally, this only involves PCR tests. Data isn’t being distributed about positive rates for the faster antigen tests, which currently uncover about one-quarter of active cases, because those tests are done on-site rather than in centralized labs.

So why did I take up your time with that numerical exercise? Because it’s only a slightly exaggerated version of the mental gymnastics we go through every day deciding how to react to this pandemic.

We’re all worn out from uncertainty. We want absolute answers and information that comes with numbers attached seems absolute.

But this pandemic isn’t a math quiz. My best actions, your best actions, and society’s best actions will always involve a judgment call. The judgment should be based on the best data available, but there’s no algorithm to say yea or nay.

That’s why I’ll continue to err on the side of informed caution. I will wear one of those irritating masks when I go out, and stand farther away from people than I’d like to, and avoid many activities that I truly enjoy. And it’s why I got my flu shot, because we don’t need a “twin-demic” of respiratory diseases.

My caution is particularly relevant because the recent data from New Hampshire isn’t good, as you can see in the weekly metrics that the Monitor has been tracking since the start of summer. We are falling short on a majority of them.

Remember, you can always check three COVID-related charts that I update on weekdays (and some weekends). Links are here: Daily new casesdaily hospitalizationsdeaths.

Goal 1: No sustained increase in the number of new hospitalizations related to COVID-19. Have we met this goal? No.

The number of people in the hospital with active cases of COVID-19 has been stable for a week but rose sharply in the weeks before that.

Goal 2: A two-week drop in new cases. Have we met this goal? No.

Goal 3: Fewer than four new cases per 100,000 people each day, or 54 new cases a day. Have we met this goal? No.

The number of positive tests results that are reported each day long ago passed the 54 mark and keeps going up and up. The two-week average has doubled in three weeks, from 65 on Oct. 12 to 140 on Nov. 6,  and shows no sign of slowing.

Goal 4: Conducting at least 150 PCR tests per 100,000 people each day, or 2,000 tests per day. Have we met this goal? Yes.

Goal 5: A positive rate of PCR tests below 5%, indicating that we’re doing enough testing to get a good handle on how widespread the virus is. Have we met this goal?

As noted above, we have easily met both these goals.

More recently, a number of fast but less accurate antigen tests have been added to the mix. We don’t have data about how many of those tests are run or their rate of positives because they are performed on site, rather than at centralized labs, although the state says they’re working on it.

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




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