Trending downward

New daily cases of COVID-19 appeared to level off in New Hampshire about two weeks ago before starting to decline — though the state is still averaging about 100 cases per day more than it was in early March.

COVID-19 indicators have trended downward over the past week in New Hampshire, after climbing for several weeks.

The state averaged 345 new cases per day for the seven days ending Friday, compared to 418 one week earlier. The share of tests coming back positive, as measured by the seven-day average, was 4.2 percent, down from 5.2 percent. And 108 people were hospitalized for the disease as of Friday, 24 fewer than a week earlier.

At a news conference Thursday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan noted the trend but reminded the public that we are not out of the woods yet.

“This is a trend we hope will continue, but just to stress, the levels of community spread continue to be high,” Chan said.

He encouraged Granite Staters to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and also continue basic precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

“There is data that shows that vaccination combined with these community mitigation measures will help us control the pandemic more effectively, bringing the numbers down more quickly, and help us get back to normal at a more rapid pace,” he said.

Cases fell sharply starting in January, after peaking at more than 800 per day during New Hampshire’s winter surge, but started climbing again last month. New daily cases appeared to level off about two weeks ago before starting to decline — though the state is still averaging about 100 cases per day more than it was in early March.

Those trends mirror national ones, including the recent dip.

Chan said the emergence of new, more contagious variants of the virus — including B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K. — likely contributed to the latest uptick, and some models suggest that could lead to “another, smaller peak.” But continued vaccination and other public health measures should be able to tamp those down again, he added.

The death rate in New Hampshire has remained significantly lower than in the winter, likely due to vaccination of the most vulnerable residents. The N.H. Department of Health and Human Services announced 10 more deaths related to COVID-19 over the past week, two of which occurred in December and were only recently confirmed to be related to the disease. Two of the 10 deaths involved Hillsborough County residents, and another was of a Sullivan County resident.

As of Friday, the state had about 3,200 known active cases. There have been more than 93,000 confirmed cases and 1,281 COVID-related deaths in New Hampshire since the pandemic began.

Vaccinations continue

New Hampshire has now administered more than 1 million doses of COVID vaccine, according to state data.

As of Wednesday, about 685,000 people had received at least one dose. That’s equivalent to just over half the state’s population. (New Hampshire opened vaccines to nonresidents this past week, so it’s unclear if they account for a small part of that number.) About 340,000 — a quarter of the population — is considered fully vaccinated.

Among those considered fully vaccinated, the state has confirmed 24 were later infected with COVID-19, including two who died, Beth Daly, chief of the state’s infectious disease bureau, said at Thursday’s news conference.

Those cases represent 0.0007 percent of New Hampshire’s fully vaccinated population as of Wednesday.

State officials emphasized that some so-called “breakthrough” cases are expected, as no vaccine is meant to be 100 percent effective. Such cases also occur with other vaccines, such as for the flu.

Clinical trials — as well as increasing evidence from real-world settings — have shown the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be highly effective in protecting people against COVID-19, and they may also make the illness milder in those who do get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine — whose pause the CDC and FDA lifted Friday — was also effective in clinical trials at preventing COVID-19 and COVID-related hospitalization.

“These are not unexpected,” Daly said. She noted that vaccines have “prevented many, many infections, as we’ve seen the case counts and deaths come down in our long-term care facilities and even statewide.”

Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday encouraged people to make vaccine appointments if they haven’t already. Even if you’ve already made an appointment, he said, you can continue checking the VINI online registration system to see if an earlier time is available. “There are appointments today in the state of New Hampshire going unfilled,” he said.

People can register for a vaccine by visiting vaccines.nh.gov or calling 211.

The local picture

Cheshire County has seen 195 new cases over the past two weeks and had 132 active cases as of Friday.

The county’s test positivity rate for the past seven days was 1.8 percent.

The following communities in The Sentinel’s coverage area had known active cases as of Friday, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services: Keene (47), Rindge (23), Swanzey (14), Jaffrey (8), Westmoreland (8), Charlestown (7), Greenfield (7), Hinsdale (7), Peterborough (6), Troy (5) and Acworth, Alstead, Antrim, Chesterfield, Dublin, Harrisville, Langdon, Marlow, Walpole and Winchester, all with one to four each.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS.