COVID-19 hospitalizations fall to lowest level since August

By: - March 8, 2022 5:42 am
A hospital bed in an empty hallway

During a January surge, when it counted 54 COVID-19 patients, Elliot Hospital was using its emergency room hallway for overflow patients. Monday it had just two COVID-19 patients. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

At least one of the state’s COVID-19 markers is going in the right direction. In the last two months, the number of people hospitalized for the virus has dropped sharply from 433 in mid-January to 56 as of Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Perhaps most striking is the drop at Elliot Hospital, which has gone from a peak of 54 COVID-19 patients in mid-January to two on Monday.

Hospitals that earlier this year were relying on help from the National Guard and federal medical teams are resuming normal operations. 

This is the lowest hospitalizations have been in New Hampshire since mid-August, according to the Department of Health and Human Services dashboard. And the number of people recovering from COVID-19 but no longer infectious has also dropped, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association’s dashboard

graph of Covid hospitalizations
COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Hampshire have decreased significantly in the last two months, from 433 in mid-January to 56 as of Monday. (Screenshot from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 dashboard)

Neither the state nor the hospital association break out ICU cases or provide patient age information other than the one pediatric patient noted on the association’s page.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are lowest among the North Country’s six hospitals (3) and the Seacoast’s five hospitals (7), according to the state. Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover was caring for two COVID-19 patients Monday, down from 49 in January. 

Sheila Woolley, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Wentworth-Douglass, said the drop in COVID-19 patients means fewer challenges for health care workers who must don and doff gowns, gloves, and masks each time they enter a COVID-19 treatment room and for housekeeping staff trying to keep up with the waste. 

The hospital has less restrictive visitor policies except for the emergency room and has resumed elective procedures. That has revealed its own consequences, Woolley said. 

“We are seeing patients who are more acutely ill than previously, and we suspect this is due to patients delaying their care and treatment,” she said.

The six hospitals in the Upper Valley and southwestern part of the state reported 19 patients. 

The remaining 27 are among the 13 hospitals in what the state calls the I-93 corridor. 

That includes Concord Hospital, which had two COVID-19 patients at its Concord site Monday, down from nearly 52 in December, and three between its Laconia and Franklin locations.

The decline in cases and help from traveling nurses is allowing the hospital to staff all beds. Visiting hours have been extended, and the hospital has resumed surgeries, said Dr. Matthew Gibb, chief clinical officer.

“We’re seeing an improvement in staffing gaps, which allows us to book more procedures, but also provide the level of care our patients and community expect,” he said.

Audra Burns, spokeswoman for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system, said it has 16 COVID-19 patients, 13 of them at its three New Hampshire hospitals and three at its Vermont site.

“All metrics are improving, including daily case counts, test positivity, and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Michael Calderwood of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“We will need to watch the numbers closely, understanding that cases could potentially rise again,” he said. “However, we have no indication of that at this time.”

He noted that all New Hampshire counties are now at either medium or low COVID-19 community transmission and local guidance on masking indoors, including in schools, is shifting to personal choice. The hospital is rescheduling care that was delayed when hospitalizations surged. “This work will continue until every patient’s care has been met,” he said.

The state’s dashboard has been less reliable when it comes to the state’s vaccination rate because of inconsistencies in reporting from pharmacies and the inclusion of booster doses in the overall count. 

The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more accurate data. The CDC reports that as of Sunday, nearly 73 percent of Granite Staters age 5 and up are fully vaccinated, which does not include a booster dose. 

The uptake rate for boosters is another story. 

In Belknap and Rockingham counties, 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of people 12 and older are boosted. The rates were highest in Carroll (nearly 40 percent), Grafton (35 percent), and Sullivan counties (almost 35 percent).

Health and Human Services continues to offer primary and booster doses at several fixed sites and its mobile van stops on a walk-in basis. Locations are on its COVID-19 website

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.