The Concord Monitor is keeping track of four measurements that are often cited as good indicators of how the COVID-19 pandemic is progressing, looking at data provided by New Hampshire.
This is our weekly update on how we’re doing on these four goals, looking at data as of Friday, June 5.
When all four measures are being met consistently then we’ll have a good argument for considering the pandemic to be under control in New Hampshire, even though the virus itself will still be around and we need to continue to take precautions.
Here are the goals and the current results:
Goal: A two-week drop in cases as measured by the 14-day running average, which would indicate the virus is abating.
Have we met this goal? No.
As of Friday, the average number of new cases over the previous two weeks was 73, unchanged from a week earlier. The average had been falling until recently, going from 91 on May 13 down to 73 on May 26, but since then it hasn’t budged.
Goal: Fewer than four new cases per 100,000 people each day, which would show that we’re not only improving but are below dangerous levels.
Have we met this goal? No.
New Hampshire has 1.36 million people, so four new cases per 100,000 people is a ceiling of 54 new cases a day.
Our daily count has been below that figure only three times in the past two weeks and the two-week average of 73 is more than one-third higher than our goal.
Goal: At least 150 PCR tests performed per 100,000 people per day, indicating that we’re doing enough testing to be confident in its conclusions. These detect current COVID-19 cases.
Have we met this goal? No, but we’re close.
Performing 150 PCR tests per 100,000 people means 2,000 tests a day. The daily average as of the end of last week was only 1,831.
However, I expect that number to rise now that the state has started a program allowing long-term care facilities to do their own sample collection, sending them to a contracted lab in North Carolina.
The state is also seeing around 300 daily antibody tests, the sort that indicate if you have had COVID-19 in the past. The significance of this information is the subject of some debate, as it’s not yet clear how long antibody protection lasts.
Goal: A positive rate of PCR tests below 5 percent, indicating that the virus is not spreading in the general population.
Have we met this goal? Yes.
The positive rate has been below 5 percent as measured on three-day averages for all but a few days in the past month. This is perhaps the most encouraging sign of all the data.
So the conclusion is that we’re not ready to go back to “normal,” whatever that is. Not yet, anyway.
Some readers have asked why I’m not including the number of deaths as a goal.
Unfortunately, the trend in fatalities has not been good. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 tripled during May, from 81 to 245, and the increase hasn’t slowed so far in June.
I’m not including this as a goal, however, because it’s a relatively small and highly variable figure, and I’m worried that the noise will overwhelm the signal, to use engineering terms.
Further, since more than 80 percent of deaths have been people in long-term care facilities, usually over the age of 70, the number may not say as much as it seems about the trend of the disease throughout the state.
I’m not minimizing the tragedy of these deaths and the need to lower this figure — after all, I’m not too far from this population group myself — but it’s not very useful as a statewide measurement of the trajectory of the disease.
One other figure that is often tracked by coronavirus watchers is hospitalization rate, the percentage of COVID-19 cases are serious enough to put people in the hospital.
The total figure since New Hampshire began keeping track is 10 percent hospitalized, but the current figure is very low, just 1.7 percent. That may be a sign that the overall population is becoming more resistant, but it’s too early to say that. If well-documented antibody testing becomes more prevalent, we can put this figure in context.