COVID tracker: Trying not to let a couple improving numbers give a false sense of hope

  • NH DHHS—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/24/2021 4:59:36 PM

The big idea behind this continuous monitoring of the state’s COVID-19 data and our emphasis on two-week averages is that you shouldn’t get too fixated on any one number on any one day. The pandemic depends on too many variables for people’s hopes to rise or fall on a single report; only longer trends can give the true picture.

With that said, there was one number that showed up in the state’s daily report last week which produced a flutter of optimism: On Thursday, the positive rate of PCR tests was 2.9%, the lowest it has been since the post-summer surge began more than three months ago.

Even better, that was the third day in a row and fourth time in a week that the rate was below 5%, an arbitrary but commonly accepted measure that indicates when the virus is circulating widely throughout the community.

As we’ve noted in the past, the positivity rate is complicated because it depends not only on the presence of the disease, but on details of how tests are being run. Nonetheless, epidemiologists have long regarded it as an important way to track infectious disease.

If the rate rally is declining, that’s very good news.

Accompanying good news in the data is the continuing slow decline of hospitalization numbers, which have fallen by one-third in a month. Even more than the vaccine rollout, which is happening too slowly to make a population-wide difference for many months, these two points hint that we might be cresting the peak of the pandemic.

That’s only a hint, however. We’re still at the peak, as is shown by the continued rise in deaths, despite our efforts to protect the most vulnerable in nursing homes and other places where many people live together, such as prisons. Very soon, we will pass the point where more than 1,000 New Hampshire residents have died from this disease, so we need to keep taking it just as seriously as we always have.

But, that won’t keep me from feeling a little bit hopeful as we prepare to live in The COVID Era, Year Two.

Updated charts and other information can be found on the Monitor’s COVID-19 page at

Number of new cases – what’s the trend? Remaining very high.

The two-week average of new cases has fluctuated around 800 to 850 for the past two weeks and shows no sign of changing.

Number of hospitalizations – what’s the trend? Going down.

There were 335 people in the hospital at the start of the year and 240 on Friday.

Number of deaths – what’s the trend? Going up steadily.

Almost exactly 10 people have died every day since the start of the year. Nothing we’ve done has lowered that rate.

PCR test positivity rate – what’s the trend? Edging down.

As is noted above, the percentage of PCR tests that come back with a positive COVID-19 finding has slipped in recent days. The two-week average remains above the 5% level, however.

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

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