By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Happy Thanksgiving and pass the Moderna please.
Last week New Hampshire hit its all-time high for active COVID-19 cases, approaching 8,000.
That is higher than the peak in December and January when the number was between 5,000 and 6,000, which says the Delta variant is both more infectious and people have symptoms for a longer period.
The number of new cases hit its all-time peak for seven-day average last week at 899, which is higher than on Dec. 8, 2020 when the average was 877, the highest until last week.
The daily infection record from a year ago of more than 1,200 has not been surpassed, but some days are very close recently.
In his weekly press conferences, Gov. Chris Sununu used to say it is about the science and ensuring hospitals are not overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
This week those hospitalized with COVID-19 increased significantly to 326 confirmed cases which is just below the peak on Jan. 1 of 334.
But more telling is the number of available Intensive Care Unit beds, which are at the lowest level — 7 percent — since tracking began for the pandemic as are hospital beds at 10 percent.
But in some communities from Dover to Concord to the North Country, hospitals are full and stressed which means needed but emergency medical treatment is not available as they cope with COVID-19 patients.
The public elementary and secondary schools are also experiencing a dramatic increase in cases in students, faculty and staff, yet some continue to try to bully school boards into rescinding mask mandates.
At the same time, the education commissioner and state board of education are working through administrative rules to minimize the use of remote learning. Schools that shut down and revert to full remote learning because of an outbreak would have to make up those days at the end of the school year. In other words they would not count for the needed 180 days of instruction.
On Friday, the state’s COVID-19 schools website reported 20 schools from around the state had new cases the day before.
And long-term care facilities, which had nearly stopped COVID-19 last spring with testing and vaccines, have seen outbreaks return.
Restaurants around the state have had to close for a period of time due to COVID-19 exposures.
We are in the state’s biggest pandemic peak as are our northern New England neighbors, Vermont and Maine.
And more worrisome the holiday season is here and people will gather indoors with families and friends and many will travel. And like last year, health officials expect a spike in new cases.
When the peak arrived last year, Sununu declared a mask mandate, the last governor in the Northeast to do so, and the first to lift it.
His action resulted in demonstrations at his home in Newfields, and he cancelled his planned outdoor inauguration ceremony out of concern for safety. Protesters had planned to disrupt the event.
Also last year, restaurants that were open had limited seating, stores limited capacity and everyone was told to stay six feet from another person.
Bus lines shut down and airports were ghost towns.
The state of emergency was in full force and a number of other health protections were also in place.
Vaccines were sold as the path back to normalcy and people eagerly lined up at drive through sites to get their shot or shots of Pfizer or Moderna. As the number of vaccinated people grew, the rate of infections began to slow.
Everyone was looking forward to a near normal summer with get-togethers and trips to visit friends and relatives, and to continue checking places off the bucket list.
But we didn’t make it through the summer before the Delta variant spread like wildfire through the desert of the unvaccinated with enough break-through cases to be concerning.
Lots of things went wrong but, in the heated desire for normalcy, too many believed the pandemic was over and acted like it.
And the vaccination rate leveled off to an almost straight line after June and has just recently, slowly begun trending upward again.
But instead of 10,000 people a day receiving shots, it is now in the low 100s and the state’s vaccination rate has been stuck around 60 percent, the worst in New England and about average nationally.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, whose numbers are different from the state’s, the other New England states are the five highest for percentage of vaccinated individuals, ranging from Vermont at number one to Massachusetts in fifth place. All five have full vaccination rates above 70 percent, which was once thought to be the magic number to bring the pandemic under control.
New Hampshire ranks 11th behind New York, New Jersey. Maryland, Washington and Virginia.
Messaging has been a problem in New Hampshire and it has been for some time.
The government has acted like everything is back to normal with legislative committees meeting in person as are the Executive Council, state boards and commissioners, etc.
The governor is seen everywhere without a mask or doing any social distancing.
While he touts vaccines as the way out, the state’s Attorney General has joined about a dozen states in the south, lower midwest and wild west to sue the Biden administration over vaccine mandates for federal contract workers, businesses with more than 100 employees and health care workers. The Attorney General did not make that decision on his own.
And the last two months have been a roller coaster ride over federal funding for expanding the state’s lagging vaccination program.
The administration wanted the Executive Council to approve $27 million in federal CDC money to upgrade its vaccination registry, to expand programs for children and the elderly and to add outreach workers to contact the unvaccinated.
But like much of the pandemic, the money was caught up in the polarization that grips this country and state as far-right activists did all they could to prevent the state from using the federal funds.
The anti-vaxxers said accepting the money would mean the state would have to enforce the federal mandates, which the governor and attorney general refuted with Sununu calling the notion a conspiracy theory and misinformation.
The activists managed to shut down the council meeting in September, but got their wish in October when the four Republican councilors voted against accepting the money, while the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Republicans tabled the measure.
All that was resolved this month but not without more demonstrations, threats and incivility.
Despite the demonstrators’ beliefs, the state needs to do more to contain the latest surge and hopefully make it the last one.
Austria, which is not known as one of Europe’s more socialistic countries, saw its cases triple and instituted a lockdown for the unvaccinated and yesterday extended it to everyone with Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologizing to the vaccinated for the inconvenience.
Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe at 66 percent —still better than New Hampshire’s — and set a deadline of Feb. 1 for everyone to be vaccinated.
That is not something likely to happen here, but at least there are courageous leaders who do what they believe is necessary to end this plague once and for all. But they are just not in New Hampshire.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.