Here are two items about COVID-19 in New Hampshire that, it’s safe to say, are related: We have a relatively high percentage of people who are vaccinated and we have a low amount of the more infectious Delta variant.
How low? In the past couple of weeks, 6,303 positive tests for COVID-19 in New Hampshire had been genetically sequenced by the state and 15, or about 0.2%, were the Delta variant. The Delta “breed” of the virus, to use my canine metaphor from last week’s COVID tracker, is associated with huge outbreaks in India, Brazil and much of Africa. The less of it we see, the better.
By comparison, one-quarter of New Hampshire’s positive samples were the Alpha variant, one of four major breeds of SARS-CoV2 virus (so far, anyway). Fortunately, Alpha doesn’t appear to be more infectious or dangerous than the original virus.
This information, of course, is only as good as the testing it is based on. Jake Leon, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, answered my query about this: “Approximately 25% of cases go through genomics sequencing. All breakthrough cases receive/are recommended for variant testing, as well as cases associated with travel outside of New England and anyone who had a previous COVID infection in the previous 90 days.”
Breakthrough cases are those that occur in vaccinated people. Samples are PCR tested at the New Hampshire Public Health Laboratories, University of New Hampshire, and CDC contract labs.
Genetic sequencing of a quarter of positive results seems like pretty good coverage to me. It’s possible only because the number of positives has fallen so much. In December, when we were seeing 1,000 new cases a day, state and private labs couldn’t have gotten anywhere near that percentage of genetic tests and therefore couldn’t have gotten a good idea of the spread of variants. This is another advantage of keeping the caseload low.
If you want to keep track of variants, go to the state’s COVID-19 overview page (covid19.nh.gov/dashboard/overview) and hover your mouse above the words “Total Cases” next to the graphic of a thermometer. A box will pop up showing the number of cases identified from each of the four main variants. It gives their clinical name rather the than Greek letter name: Delta is B1.617.2.
As for vaccination rates, we appear to be stalling out at about 55% of the total population being fully vaccinated. We’ll probably make it to 60% but beyond that looks iffy.
That’s not enough to be comfortable but it’s better than most U.S. states. We’re also surrounded by states with similar vaccination rates, reducing the chance of unvaccinated virus-carriers crossing the border.
As you know, unvaccinated people provide a home for the virus, a place for it to exist and potentially mutate. The more vaccine-avoiders are around us, the more likely it is that other COVID breeds will be in our midst.
“Hosts” is one clinical term for such folks, which makes them sound like Pod People from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad characterization, since the virus does take over our body and alter our behavior.
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