The number of active COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire has more than doubled over the past two weeks, from 500 to over 1,000 infections, a number almost five times higher than the number of cases in the beginning of September.
Cases linked to small gatherings have become possible clusters for COVID-19 in recent weeks. So far, 17 cases have been linked to Fat Katz Food and Drink in Hudson, after two people who were aware of their infection status still went to the restaurant. A number of employees at Portsmouth restaurants tested positive last week as well. Hockey rinks have recently been ordered to shut down across the state, after more than 150 players tested positive over the past two months.
Hospitalizations and deaths linked to the coronavirus are on the rise, too, now at an average of two per day.
Experts say the state should expect this to continue, as fall proceeds.
“The trend that we’re seeing is alarming, and I do expect there to be a continued rise,” said Michael Calderwood, an infections disease expert at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. “I think the unknown is: how much of this will remain out in the community, versus whether we’re going to see that translate to an increase in hospitalizations like we saw last spring.”
The state has been testing more, especially as colleges and universities have reopened over the past two months, but Calderwood says that isn’t the only reason COVID-19 diagnoses are increasing.
“We are finding some in contact investigations who are asymptomatic,” he said. “So that is increasing the number. But we are seeing an increase in symptomatic disease in the last few weeks.”
In response, communities like Manchester are beginning to reconsider plans to fully reopen: aldermen there are weighing a mask mandate this week, which local health officials say will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as well as the cold and flu. The city’s school district also rolled back plans to phase high school students into hybrid learning this week, as its risk level moved from ‘low’ to ‘moderate.’ Middle and elementary school students are still expected to begin hybrid learning in the coming weeks as risk levels among those age groups is lower, according to district officials.
As temperatures continue to drop and social gatherings move inside, Calderwood expects the trend in rising cases to continue, especially as the holidays approach.
“We know that in small gatherings, people’s bubbles are beginning to grow larger,” he said. “People are not always wearing masks in those smaller environments...so as we come indoors that is increasing the risk.”
Calderwood said Granite Staters should continue wearing masks whenever they go into their communities, wash their hands frequently, and get the flu vaccine. He hopes that more people getting vaccinated and wearing masks will reduce the number of flu cases this year so the state’s health system can continue to focus on testing and treating COVID-19.