After two months of low rates, Cheshire Medical Center has reported a recent spike in its percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

The Keene hospital’s data — which officials report every other week, half as often as earlier stages of the pandemic — show that for the week ending April 28, the positivity rate jumped to 13.8 percent, nearly double than what was reported the week prior.

This number climbed again last week, with a rate of 15.2 percent as of May 5, the latest data available, which the hospital reported Tuesday.

This rate stayed below 10 percent — a figure officials have said helps prevent the hospital from getting overwhelmed — since late February. Cheshire Medical’s all-time-high was nearly 33 percent in the final weeks of January, which came amid a four-month stretch of rates above 10 percent dating back to early October.

At its lowest point recently, the hospital saw a percent positivity of 5.9 percent in mid-March.

This increase could be due to a variety of things, according to Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at the Dartmouth Health affiliate. Relaxed mitigation measures, more social gatherings and the increased transmissibility of the variants currently circulating are likely all factors.

And though Cheshire Medical officials are keeping a close eye on those numbers, Khole said the hospital isn’t “as worried” it will become overwhelmed again based on national, regional and local data so far.

The silver lining in this latest uptick, he added, is there hasn’t been a “dramatic increase” in hospitalizations, like what overwhelmed the hospital last winter.

This could be due to the current variants causing less severe illness or more immunity among the population because of vaccinations, boosters and recent infections, according to Khole.

“We are happy about the fact that we aren’t seeing a sharp rise in hospitalizations now,” he said. “But we cannot be callous and make the same mistakes again. As a society, we have to learn from the past and adapt to succeed.”

As of Tuesday, the hospital had five inpatients admitted with the viral disease. This is about average for what Cheshire Medical has seen in the past week, according to Khole. At the height of the winter surge, the hospital saw 29 inpatients at once.

The patients have not had severe symptoms, he noted, and some were admitted to the hospital for non-COVID reasons but also tested positive. Khole added that many of those who were in the hospital for the viral disease were not up to date on their booster shots.

And for the past few months, Khole said no COVID-19 patients have been in the ICU.

“At this time, it’s not as severe from an inpatient perspective as it was over the winter,” he said.

Cheshire Medical continues to urge people to practice COVID-19 safety measures, such as staying home when sick and washing hands frequently. The hospital also still encourages mask wearing in public, especially in crowded spaces or for those who are immunocompromised.

As the weather starts to warm, health officials say that the more people can have any social gatherings outdoors, the better, as this makes it harder to contract the virus.

Health experts also continue to push those who haven’t done so to get a COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot, as these are the best way to protect yourself and others from a serious case of the viral disease, according to health experts.

For more information and resources about COVID-19, visit sentinelsource.com/news/coronavirus.

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine or booster appointment, visit vaccines.nh.gov or call 2-1-1.

Funding for the Monadnock Region Health Reporting Lab comes from several sources, including The Sentinel and several local businesses and private donors. We continue to seek additional support. The newsroom maintains full editorial control over all content produced by the lab.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com.

Olivia Belanger is the health reporter for The Sentinel, covering issues from the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic to mental health services in the region. A N.H. native, she joined The Sentinel team in August 2019.

Recommended for you