Gyms, bowling alleys and museums are just a few of the many industries that reopened this week as Gov. Chris Sununu continues lifting restrictions on businesses in New Hampshire. But how widespread is COVID-19 still in New Hampshire?
NHPR’s Jessica Hunt spoke with health reporter Jason Moon who has been looking at the numbers.
(Note, this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
Jessica Hunt: So you've been looking at these numbers for a while. What do the latest numbers surrounding COVID-19 cases tell us about the pandemic in New Hampshire at this point?
Jason Moon: Well, I think, you know, for a while, New Hampshire was kind of in this plateau where we were seeing a pretty consistent number of new cases per day, hospitalizations per day and deaths per day. And we were in that state for really several weeks. The good news is that more recently that plateau has become, I would call it, a gentle downward slope. Whereas a month ago we were seeing daily cases, daily new case numbers of around 80 or 90 a day, now it's more like 40 a day. And the hospitalizations, they peaked at about 120 current hospitalizations a month ago, and now we're at about half that.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths per day, sadly, has remained pretty steady throughout all of this at about four or five people a day, and total so far 330 people have died in New Hampshire from COVID-19. And the vast majority of those are happening at long term care facilities, which have really been the hardest hit part of the state. So it's still a mixed picture, but we are definitely in a better state than we were several weeks ago.
Jessica Hunt: So how closely or not has the state's reopening plan tracked with those numbers?
Jason Moon: Well, I think if you take a broad look at the numbers, you could say that it does. I mean, we are in a better position than we were a few months ago, and that perhaps supports the state's decision to to reopen the economy. And Gov. Sununu and state health officials will often say that all of their decisions about this are based on the data that we're seeing. That said, there are some, you know, particular reopening decisions that, at least as far as we can tell, don't seem to be based on any data.
For instance, reopening of the state beaches, there was a pathway reopening that happened on June 1 where runners, swimmers, surfers could use the beach. Then just four days later, June 5, they were fully reopened to sunbathing and anything else you might want to do on the beach. But in those four days between June 1 and June 5, there wasn't really any significant change in the numbers we were seeing. So some decisions like that, it's hard to see how they're based on the data that we're getting. But in general, I think the state can make an argument that it is tracking.
And I would also say that that decision about beaches, you know, you could look at it in this broader context of kind of two messages we get from state officials during these press conferences they hold multiple times a week. And it's a bit of a mixed message. So on the one hand, you have state public health officials and Gov. Sununu saying this is serious. Be concerned. Actually, just earlier this week, Sununu said, "If you have anxiety, if you're worried, you should be." On the other hand, he said that just hours after he allowed the stay-at-home order to expire. And it's also the same week that he began allowing indoor dining at restaurants and began allowing visits at nursing homes, which, as we said earlier, have been the hardest hit. So there is a bit of a disconnect between the rhetoric of continue to take this seriously, be concerned, be worried, but also the state is reopening all of these parts of the economy. So I think that's something to watch as we go forward.
Jessica Hunt: And is there anything that we can learn from other states that reopened much earlier than New Hampshire?
Jason Moon: Well, you know, there are some potential cautionary tales out there. Other states that have reopened more aggressively than New Hampshire have seen real spikes in cases, places like South Carolina and Arizona. And I think it points to a real possibility that as New Hampshire continues to reopen, we might see a spike or maybe a swell in the numbers here. And, you know, it's it's worth noting that while this week we've seen mostly new daily accounts of cases in the 20s, there was one day this week where we had 73 new cases. So it's still possible that we could see a surge in cases in New Hampshire in the future.
And, you know, I'd also point out that compared to Vermont and Maine, we're still in a worse off situation. So the outbreak's been more serious here. There's more of it in the communities still spreading, and that could come back as the state reopens. You know, my question going forward is now that Sununu has largely reopened the state's economy. If we do see a surge or a spike in cases, would he be willing to shut it down again?