With so much attention focused on the final days of the election season, the stepped-up warnings from Gov. Chris Sununu and his administration about the recent increase in community transmission of COVID-19 may not be getting the attention they deserve.
The number of cases across the state, including here in the Monadnock Region, are well below the numbers in other parts of the country, which have been less willing to observe the precautions that have been effective in slowing the spread of the virus. But the uptick here is concerning, particularly as the onset of late fall and winter weather make outdoor dining and other interaction less feasible and drive those activities indoors.
In addition to the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, one of the data points the governor cites often is the positivity rate. This is the percentage of positive COVID-19 test results among the total tests administered over a seven-day period, and it can be a leading indicator of trends in the number of COVID-19 infections. Right now, New Hampshire’s rate remains relatively low — under 2 percent, a rate that’s among the 10 lowest of the states — but the rate has been trending upward recently. That’s significant, Sununu said at his Oct. 29 press conference, because many of the states now experiencing case surges are rural, have similar demographics as New Hampshire and were themselves reporting positivity rates in the 1-2 percent range just six weeks ago.
These and other data pointing to an increase in community transmission led Sununu to ratchet up his warnings against COVID complacency and to stress the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and following the state’s guidelines while at the workplace, businesses, restaurants and other venues. “The numbers are going to keep going up, I think, for quite a while,” he said at his press conference, and he credited mask-wearing and the other precautions for having made “a fundamental difference in our ability to manage the pandemic.”
As the number of cases climbs, the seriousness of the governor’s warning cannot be overstated. Nobody wants a significant-enough spike in cases, hospitalizations or deaths that another stay-at-home order — with its serious consequences for the economy, schools, livelihoods and lives — will be necessary to control the virus’s spread. At his press conference, Sununu described that as a “final card,” but he noted that the positivity rate when he imposed the order in March was in the 10-20 percent range, which is where those states being hardest hit are right now. (Of course, in March, only frontline workers and those strongly suspected of having the virus were being tested, so higher percentages then make sense.)
To emphasize the gravity of his message, he followed up on his press conference remarks with a press statement issued the next day. Urging Granite Staters to observe precautions as winter approaches, he said, “[t]he situation here in New Hampshire remains very serious,” and added, “[c]ommunity transmission is increasing, and we expect cases to rise.”
So as COVID-weary as we all are, it really comes down to each of us, and everyone should maintain vigilance and heed Sununu’s warning: Wear a mask (and keep it up over the nose); practice good hand hygiene; maintain social distancing; stay home if experiencing symptoms. In short, don’t let your guard — or your mask — down.