In the final weeks of September, Cheshire Medical Center saw a decrease in COVID-19 inpatients, according to data from the Keene hospital.

And while the downward trend is promising, the percent positivity rate the hospital is reporting — about 7 percent as of Sept. 24 — is still alarming, President and CEO Dr. Don Caruso said.

“I think more people are masking, and I think that’s what’s making a difference,” he said. “... But the reality is, until we get below 2 [percent] positivity, there will be considerable community spread.”

Starting in August, the state saw a surge in COVID-19 cases driven largely by the virus’ more-contagious delta variant, after reporting relatively low levels for the first months of summer. But in the past week, new cases have begun to decline again.

As of Tuesday, New Hampshire’s seven-day average was about 458 new cases, a drop of about 5 percent from the week prior.

Cheshire County continues to see substantial community transmission, according to the state health department, but logged the lowest number of new cases in the past two weeks (302) among New Hampshire’s 10 counties. When expressed per 100,000 people, Cheshire County had among the lowest rates during this time period.

During the week of Sept. 17, Cheshire Medical Center reported a positivity rate — the proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive — of 8.3 percent among those who received a test through the hospital. For the following week, the most recent for which data are available, that rate decreased to 7.3 percent, marking the third week of lower numbers.

However, the hospital is conducting more tests — from 895 to 983 during those weeks — which could play a role in the lower rates, according to Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease expert at Cheshire Medical.

As with other vaccines, it is possible to contract COVID-19 after being immunized, though studies show such cases are rare and that viral symptoms are typically milder.

“The people who are vaccinated have better outcomes,” Caruso said. “Really, what we see is if you’re vaccinated [and] you get so sick and you have to be on a ventilator, you’re going to survive and come off the ventilator ... We have not had an unvaccinated person come off the ventilator.”

While rare, COVID-19 can lead to death in vaccinated people. Of the 398 COVID-19-related deaths the state recorded from late January to early September of this year, 7.6 percent were considered breakthrough cases, a spokeswoman with the state health department said previously.

Three percent of the state’s total case numbers during that timeframe — 1,562 of 51,260 — were considered breakthrough infections.

In addition to urging people to get vaccinated against the viral disease, Caruso said masking is crucial when out in public — regardless of vaccination status — to keep numbers down.

“What worries me most are the percent that are vaccinated that are still getting COVID,” he said. “We don’t like to talk about that because we think that will make people not want to get vaccinated, but the reality is vaccinated people can get the virus ... and they are helping the transmission.”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.