Many COVID-19 patients need serious therapy long after they leave the hospital

  • Commissioner Lori Shibinette Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services speaks at the twice-weekly COVID-19 update with Dr. Benjamin Chan and Governor Chris Sununu on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/12/2022 4:54:45 PM

As the Omicron variant sweeps through New Hampshire, driving new-case numbers to record highs, the health system is facing a growing issue with people who stay sick long after they leave the hospital.

“What I’m hearing from hospitals is: about two-thirds of recovered COVID patients need a higher level of care than nursing homes,” said Health and Human Services Commission Lori Shibinette during a press briefing on the pandemic Wednesday, describing a need for extensive oxygen therapy. “COVID, especially if you’re ventilated, debilitates your physical body so much that you need several weeks or months of this therapy.”

As a result, Shibinette said, the state’s health care system may have to shift resources to expand the space and staffing given to rehabilitation. “I think there is an opportunity to increase rehab beds,” she said. 

The comment came during a sobering update of the pandemic from Gov. Chris Sununu and health officials, who discussed record numbers of new cases, a test positive rate of 21%, and no decline in hospitalizations or deaths.

“I think most folks are beginning to realize this is something we’re going to have to manage for the long term,” Sununu said. “About 1% of the state is getting COVID each week; that’s a very high number.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said virtually all the new cases in New Hampshire are being caused by the Omicron variant, which is not only highly contagious but is resistant to a therapy known as monoclonal antibodies that was just being rolled out in the state.

Other antiviral drugs exist that can help reduce the effects of the Omicron variant but Sununu noted “they are in extremely limited supply.”

In response to questions, Chan dismissed the idea that once enough people get COVID-19 and recover, society will be protected.

“Prior infection does not guarantee … full protection,” he said, noting that many cases of re-infection have been reported. “Herd immunity is an elusive concept.”

As the virus mutates it increases the changes someone can be reinfected.

“What I think is likely going to happen … is that many more people are going to be exposed, going to be infected,” Chan said. “That may offer some protection but it’s not going to make COVID-19 go away. It’s still going to be circulating, there are still going to be variants.”

Getting vaccines and booster shots remains the best method of fighting the pandemic, he said, reducing the chance that yet another, more dangerous variant will evolve and spread.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of the monthly 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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