By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – New Hampshire is seeing a plateau and in some cases, a downward trend in the positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, an uptick in daily testing, a stabilization of hospitalizations, and an increase in access to personal protective equipment, a top health official said Tuesday.
“But as we crack open the door” on the economy, said Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the state Division of Public Health Services, because the statistics allow for some easing, New Hampshire needs to ensure workers and those who are sick are immediately separated from work and public places and kept at home until they are no longer infectious to keep the trend moving.
And it is going to take a few weeks after opening up aspects of the economy to see that impact in numbers of new cases.
Tilley gave a half-hour presentation on the state of the virus for fellow members of the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force on Tuesday.
“We are going to be sitting here at the ready to see what sort of impact that will be and what potential there is for new cases,” Tilley said.
Tilley’s public health update showed some good news for the task force despite the fact that more than 4,000 people have been sickened and over 200 died from COVID-19 by the pandemic.
She provided this PowerPoint presentation here https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/b87ac176-41f4-4d9c-98b4-baab31b1e1fe/Governor-s-Economic-Reopening-Task-Force-052620.pdf which showed statistics on how the virus has grown here since March.
“The key to testing is to find out who is positive and then you can put them in isolation, take them out of the public at that moment until they are no longer infectious,” Tilley stressed.
Then the state goes in and does the important work of contact tracing with the goal to protect, control, and mitigate the chance of that person making someone else sick.
That is the best way to stop the virus, she said.
Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, and a fellow member of the task force, asked Tilley the one question he gets constantly: What are the metrics to allow us to move to the next phase?
Tilley said there are a number of metrics at play, but the state is looking at the percent of positivity going down as we are increasing the tests, she said.
Currently, the positivity rate is about 5 percent and it has been going down as we have increased daily testing now to over about 2,000 people a day.
“We want to make sure we are testing a broad spectrum of individuals,” Tilley said, “but we are very encouraged by that number of positively that goes down.”
Another indicator is the number of hospitalizations, which has been stable.
There are about 3,000 beds in hospitals in New Hampshire, many concentrated in the more populous parts of the state to the south where Tilley said a majority of the cases have come from individuals – mostly of working age – who live along the Interstate 93 corridor.
There are about 100 or more beds occupied with those suffering the impacts of COVID-19 right now, and it has been steady for a long time and even dipped a bit recently.
Increased testing has also allowed for more people to be tested and the overall positive rate is now at about 5 percent. It has been going down, even though more people are daily being tested as more places and criteria are eased for testing.
Now anyone can be tested and more testing sites are opening.
The state also has been very creative in getting PPE to protect health care workers, and the equipment for testing to support more testing, Tilley noted, making New Hampshire more prepared than we were previously to handle more cases.
“The supply chain has been a limiting factor from testing from day one but now we have the supply chains up and moving and the state has received some national media,” Tilley said, noting that the state was able to distribute free PPE to businesses and soon will be available to the public at cost at all 80 open state liquor stores.
“I don’t have a magic bullet number,” Tilley said on a metric or number, “because there are so many factors at play.”
One factor that influences flex opening, she conceded, is out of the state’s control.
“We will have our eyes to our neighbors to the south,” Tilley said noting that other northern New England states as a block are also looking together at the issues of the high number of cases in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, some of the hottest spots of COVID-19 in the nation and our neighbors.
Another factor is the high percentage of asymptomatic people who do not know they are carrying the virus.
“We will be anxiously waiting to watch the data,” Tilley said. “It takes two weeks to see the data.”
But she said she is cautiously encouraged by their numbers, but she said some places like the North Country have been “spared the brunt of COVID-19” so far, but as summer comes and there is a flex opening of some aspects of our lives as we once knew it, “we will be watching what it looks like as we crack the door open.”
The ones we have lost are “our mothers, fathers and important members of the community,” she said.
People have been denied the dignity of such things as funerals and graduations and the economy has been “rocked” and unemployment has gone to levels we have never seen.
“We have all realized that testing is what we need to have in place so we can….relax some of the stay-at-home orders,” she said.
“Our mission is to promote the health of all people in the state,” she said, “Our job is to protect the public health by preventing the spread of COVID-19. That is our job number one…it is our job in public health to make recommendations…to truly protect everyone in our state.”