Thanks to its generally rural composition, sensible leadership and willingness of most residents to think of others’ health and safety as well as their own, New Hampshire fared relatively well last spring and through the summer as the coronavirus pandemic surged through many other states and around the globe.
Now, as the virus makes another surge — this one more rampant than ever — those same dynamics are again our best hope of protecting ourselves and those we love. Even here in Cheshire County, which had seen case numbers in the single digits for almost the entirety of the pandemic, a surge is being seen.
This was entirely predictable, as soon as decisions were made return to higher degrees of interaction, lessening restrictions on businesses, travel and gatherings. Those were not easy decisions, and the need to try to restore some sense of normalcy is understandable.
Ideally, the best course of action from a purely public-health perspective would have been to fully social distance until a vaccine for the virus was widely available. But the economic, educational and psychological damage of the pandemic won out, and here we are, at the beginning of what appears to be a much larger and more dangerous swell of cases, even in relatively safe, contained areas such as ours.
We’ve seen cases in the Granite State recently balloon from a few dozen per day to hundreds, shattering records daily. Thursday, a record 323 new positive cases were announced; Friday, the number was 462; the weekend added another 745.
The rate of positive tests has grown from under 1 percent a few weeks ago to more than 4 percent Monday, and hospitalizations are rising. Area schools have begun pulling back from in-person classes to fully remote instruction. Cheshire Medical Center has restricted visitors. And Keene State College announced changes to its spring semester schedule.
More broadly, the state put a halt to interstate youth hockey competitions. Vermont’s governor has enacted new restrictions, closing bars and clubs at 10 p.m., banning multi-household gatherings and requiring all visitors to quarantine. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has imposed a curfew to limit late-night revelry and implemented travel restrictions from other states. Both states have full public mask requirements, a step New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has refused to take.
Sununu, in fact, has said his fellow governors are being too alarmist. As a candidate for reelection, he told us that a mask mandate was unnecessary because most Granite Staters were adhering to advice to wear them, but that he had that “in his back pocket” if needed. This week, however, he told WKBK radio he’d be unlikely to implement a mandate because those who choose not to wear masks wouldn’t even if told they must. That stance seems to take the wind out of having a mandate in his pocket.
Sununu also told us, weeks ago, that he fully expected the pandemic to worsen in the next few months. He reiterated that point this week on the radio, saying the current pandemic mirrors the great flu outbreak of 1918, which got “10 times worse” after a lull in warmer weather.
That’s another key to the situation we now face. Cold and flu season is upon us, as is colder weather that will drive people indoors, to often-poorly ventilated spaces in which the virus thrives. Add the complications in diagnosing symptoms that are very similar to the flu and the potential for having the virus alongside a cold or flu, worsening the body’s resistance.
Lastly, we’ve seen already the adaptive nature of this virus. It affects people in many different ways; it sometimes shows itself quickly via symptoms, other times not at all, making it hard to know who has it, or had it. And it mutates, as viruses do. Early on, it affected mainly seniors. More recently, those 40 and under also have been hit hard.
As Sununu said, it will continue to get worse before it gets better. Yes, there’s been good news on the vaccine front the past week or so. But any vaccine that may prove viable is still months from being available. This will not be solved easily, nor soon.
The only control we have right now is self-control. Practice social distancing, though you may be tired of it. Wear a mask in public — over both your mouth and nose — even if you, personally, aren’t sure it will help. It will, at the very least, provide comfort and protection to others who have to share the same space.
We are much closer to the end of this than to the beginning, but not so close that we can let up.