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COVID-19 indicators for New Hampshire have risen sharply in the last week, hitting all-time highs in terms of the number of new cases and hospitalizations.

According to data from the state’s official COVID-response dashboard, New Hampshire averaged 2,610 new cases per day for the week ending Tuesday, up 37 percent from a week earlier. The seven-day average for the share of antigen and PCR tests coming back positive was 21.4 percent, up slightly from 20.6 a week ago.

A total of 554 people were in hospitals with the disease as of Wednesday, including 432 people with active infections and 122 who are no longer infectious but still need critical care. (This last type of patient is referred to in N.H. Hospital Association data reports as “COVID-recovering.”) The total number of hospitalizations is up from 503 a week ago.

“In recent weeks, the number of new cases and hospitalizations has surged across our state, and we continue to operate at or near capacity as a result,” says Dr. Tom Wold, chief medical officer at Portsmouth Regional Hospital.

At Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, hospitalizations have dipped slightly, but the influx of COVID-19 inpatients remains difficult to manage, President and CEO Dr. Don Caruso said. According to the latest data available, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health affiliate had 22 COVID-19 inpatients as of Tuesday, down from the hospital’s all-time high of 29 at the end of last week. Six of those inpatients Tuesday were in the ICU — half of last week’s total — with five of them on ventilators.

The statewide surge is hurting hospitals at two levels, doctors say, both increasing the burdens on their staff and reducing the number of staff available to meet the community’s needs.

“We are experiencing a ‘twin-demic’ of increased cases of COVID-19 in the community and frontline health-care workers being placed out of work because of COVID-19,” says Dr. Jose Mercado, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s COVID response leader.

As of Wednesday, there were 8,106 health-care workers with active infections, including 103 requiring hospitalization.

“The entire system is stretched thin,” says Dr. Tim Scherer, chief medical officer for Southern N.H. Medical Center. “We are strained in all aspects of how we provide care to the community and can use help ranging from doctors and nurses to door screeners and folks to answer phones.”

Dr. Martha Wassell, director of infection prevention at Dover’s Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, says that even though some of her colleagues now act as pinch hitters, filling staffing gaps wherever safe and appropriate, the burdens are still too great.

“Despite this special labor pool,” she says, “some departments have been forced to reduce or modify hours of service.”

The surge in cases is largely driven by the lightning-fast spread of the omicron variant, which in just a week has risen to become the state’s dominant strain.

Scherer has seen this at his own hospital, where the share of omicron cases has risen from 10 percent to 80 percent in just a week.

“This is significant as some of our treatments for COVID-19 are not as effective for the omicron variant,” he said. “We are adjusting our clinical approaches based on this new incidence.”

The new dominance of omicron has also thrown a wrench into the state’s plans to use FEMA monoclonal antibody teams to fight the winter surge.

“Unfortunately, omicron is the dominant strain here,” Gov. Chris Sununu said on Wednesday, and “omicron is resistant to the vast majority of the monoclonal antibodies that we’ve traditionally been using.”

This means that the state is now looking for new ways to use the FEMA teams that arrived in the state earlier this month.

“We’re not just going to send the teams back, because we need an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Sununu said. “We are going to ask our federal partners to allow us to reutilize these individuals at vaccine sites and other means within the health-care system so that we don’t lose the ability to fight the COVID pandemic.”

The latest surge has pushed daily case numbers to all-time highs, including 3,344 new confirmed cases reported on Jan. 8. This is nearly triple the high from the peak of the first wave. The seven-day moving average for new daily cases in New Hampshire had bottomed out at just 16 at the end of June but has quickly risen since then. After dropping slightly in mid-December, the state is now averaging roughly 1,800 more cases per day than it was at the height of the first wave in December 2020.

New Hampshire’s per-capita case count of 224 per 100,000 has doubled since last week, but surges around the country mean that the state’s numbers are still below the national average, which is 235. The states with the highest numbers are still Rhode Island and New York at 505 and 363, respectively.

Like all New Hampshire counties, Cheshire is still seeing substantial levels of community transmission, the highest of three tiers designated by the state health department. As of the state’s data update on Wednesday, Cheshire County had a 14-day average of nearly 1,642 new cases a day per 100,000 people, a 52 percent increase over last week.

The local test positivity rate over the previous seven days stood at 13.6 percent, down two percentage points from a week ago, according to the state health department. But Cheshire Medical Center again broke its own record for percent positivity on tests performed at the hospital, with a rate of 27.6 percent during the week ending Jan. 6, compared to 23.5 percent the week before.

An average of between nine and 10 Granite Staters were dying due to COVID each day as of Wednesday. This is still less than the peak of 11.7 deaths per day during the first wave.

As of Thursday, there were 22,750 active COVID cases diagnosed in New Hampshire. The state had tallied 233,508 confirmed cases and 2,051 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.

Vaccination rates continue to rise, though state and federal vaccination data for New Hampshire remain out of sync. Data from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services show that 63 percent of Granite Staters have received at least one dose, while the number from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is much higher, at 95 percent. The difference between DHHS and the CDC in terms of total doses administered is roughly 721,000.

The CDC continues to recommend that anyone 5 and older get vaccinated. For adults, the agency recommends getting one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), rather than Johnson & Johnson, but the CDC emphasizes that any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Children between the ages of 5 and 17 can get the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.

Last week, the CDC shortened the waiting period before a booster for everyone who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which means that people can now receive an mRNA booster shot five months after completing their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (two months) or the Moderna vaccine (six months) has not changed.

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

Sentinel staff contributed local information to this story.

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine or booster appointment, visit vaccines.nh.gov or call 2-1-1. This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

The Sentinel added information on local COVID-19 transmission and hospitalization rates.