By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
While northern New England largely escaped the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it has not been so lucky in the second wave.
Much of the country is experiencing a horrifying spread of the disease that has claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 people in and infected about 15 million at a rate now of about 1 million every four or five days.
New Hampshire and the rest of New England — with the exception of Rhode Island — remain in better shape than the rest of the country, but not by much.
Gov. Chris Sununu likes to talk about the data driving public health decisions for the Granite State but, there are some very troubling data points that should concern everyone with the vaccine coming soon.
While it appears the governor wants to ride out this surge without additional restrictions, that may cost lives before the vaccine arrives and that would be tragic.
New Hampshire has seen a significant spike in cases, deaths and hospitalizations over the last six weeks.
According to information from the New York Times that tracks state data current through Dec 4, New Hampshire’s cases have increased 53 percent in the last two weeks, while deaths have increased by 289 percent and hospitalizations 84 percent.
In our neighbor to the West, Vermont, cases have declined 13 percent, while deaths increased 233 percent and hospitalizations 46 percent, and to our east, Maine has seen cases increase 20 percent, deaths 209 percent and hospitalizations 80 percent.
Massachusetts’s percentages are lower than New Hampshire’s as well with cases increasing 52 percent, deaths 35 percent and hospitalizations 47 percent, and New York has seen a greater percentage of cases at 69 percent, but lower increases than New Hampshire for deaths, at 66 percent and hospitalizations at 80 percent.
Looking at raw numbers is difficult with the varying populations of states, for example Massachusetts has about 7 million people, while Maine is about the same size as New Hampshire, but Vermont has about half the Granite State’s population.
One way to level the playing field to compare apples to apples is the rate of infections, etc. over 100,000 people to see how well a state is faring versus others.
Looking at total cases in a state since the pandemic began, in Massachusetts the virus has infected 3,575 people per 100,000, New York 3,548, New Hampshire 1,742, Maine 958, and Vermont, 763, although Massachusetts and New York have had many more infections than the three Northern New England states.
However, New Hampshire has nearly double — 23,690 — the number of cases as Maine — 12,844 — and nearly five times Vermont’s total of 4,763.
Over the last seven days, the per 100,000 average of infections are: Massachusetts 56.3, New Hampshire 46, New York 42, Maine 17 and Vermont 14.3. Maine and Vermont have some of the lowest per 100,000 infection rates in the country.
Looking a little closer at counties in New Hampshire, those with rates over 50 per 100,000 of population are Hillsborough 57.7, Merrimack 52.7 and Rockingham 51.8, while Belknap is just below the threshold at 48.5 per 100,000.
In Massachusetts four counties are over 50 per 100,000 including Suffix which includes Boston, 54.8, with the highest Essex at 87, which borders New Hampshire along its southeast boundary.
Vermont has one county above 50, Essex at 62.6, New York has many counties above 50, while Maine does not have any counties above 50 infections per 100,000.
According to information from the Center for Disease Control, New Hampshire at 46 per 100,000 new cases is about in the middle of the pack for the country along with Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Maryland, but above, California, Texas and Florida, known COVID-19 hotspots this summer.
The two lowest infection rates in the country are Vermont, the lowest and Maine, second lowest.
For total deaths per 100,000, New York has had 177, Massachusetts 158, New Hampshire 41, Maine 17 and Vermont 12.
For the seven-day average, Massachusetts deaths per 100,000 are 1.4, New Hampshire and Maine 0.4, New York 0.3, and Vermont 0.2.
The number of available rooms in hospitals — or capacity — has been a major concern since the beginning of the pandemic with places like Massachusetts and New York impacted at the beginning of the pandemic, with other states also facing an overflow of COVID-19 patients like California, Texas, Florida and Arizona this summer and now the crisis has hit the midwest in places like the Dakotas.
Most hospitalization data is not reported in rates per 100,000, but rather over a seven-day period and day-to-day admissions.
For example Massachusetts had 1,394 people hospitalized Friday with a seven-day average of 1.210, while New Hampshire had 159 in the hospital with an 154 average.
Maine had 164 people hospitalized on Dec. 4, with a seven-day average of 138, while Vermont had 33 people with an average of 28.
New York had 4,222 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and a seven-day average of 3,739.
Looking back to mid-August figures, New York’s seven-day average was 542, Massachusetts 319, New Hampshire 9, Maine 7 and Vermont 0.
How much a state tests is another indicator of the impact of coronavirus.
Using the New York Times data with Dec. 4 the most current information for this article, New York did 208,297 tests with a seven-day average of 172,945, Massachusetts 96,701 and 74,894. Maine 11,840 and 10,885, New Hampshire 6,500 and 8,520, and Vermont 5,803 and 3,813.
Positivity Test Rates
The positivity rates of those tested is one of the key statistics health officials look at along with hospital capacity and the transmission rate.
The rate of positive tests tells officials how widespread the infection is in the general public.
In its guidance for schools, the Centers for Disease Control said low risk for schools would be below 3 percent, with moderate risk between 5 and 8 percent, with extremely high risk of transmission above 10 percent.
For much of the summer, New Hampshire’s positivity rate was around or below 1 percent but has been increasing rapidly in the last month.
Of the five states, New Hampshire has the highest positivity rates at 7.3 percent, Massachusetts 5.2 percent, New York 4.7 percent, Vermont 2.4 percent and Maine 2.2 percent.
The highest positivity rate in the country is Idaho at 50.4 percent.
Data is data, but it would appear New Hampshire may need more than a mask mandate to make it through until enough people are vaccinated to begin bringing the pandemic under control.
The four other states, New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont have additional restrictions like curfews and capacity limits that New Hampshire does not.
But data is data.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.