The pandemic has caused 9% of all deaths in New Hampshire

As we enter the third year of the pandemic in New Hampshire, it’s time to face a grim statistic:

Since the pandemic’s first official New Hampshire death on March 7, 2019, a full 9% of the state’s deaths have been due to COVID-19.

In other words, for every 11 funerals the state has seen in the past two years, one of them wouldn’t have happened if the SARS-CoV2 virus wasn’t here.

This tally – 2,307 COVID-19 deaths reported by the Department of Health and Human Services as of Feb. 7 –  is sobering enough, but as we’ve discussed before it may not tell the entire story.

Over that same two-year period New Hampshire saw 2,830 more deaths than expected, compared to average death totals over the previous five years. That is 523 more deaths than were attributed to COVID-19.

Were these caused indirectly by the pandemic? Maybe.

Did fear of contagion or overloaded hospitals keep people from necessary care until it was too late? Did they succumb to heart problems caused by continued stress? Were they part of the uptick in drug overdoses fueled by despair about the future?

It’s impossible to say, of course. In fact, we can’t really label those 523 deaths over two years as “extra,” since that figure is within the level of death-total fluctuation that the state regularly sees.

It might just be a coincidence that each of the past two years has each seen a couple hundred more deaths than expected. I don’t think so but that’s just a guess.

Either way, this is a reminder – if one was needed – that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on our state,  particularly among people of retirement age and beyond. 91% of the people who died were 60 years old or older. 

And even though COVID-19 does seem to be abating at least for the moment thanks to vaccines and boosters, masks and changes in some habits, people will continue to die from it. We can’t be “over the pandemic” yet.

Here are the numbers. According to mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control, New Hampshire’s pre-pandemic average was 11,368 deaths per year and the two years of the pandemic have seen an average of 12,787 deaths. Mortality data is a little slow to be compiled, which is why this is considered only through Feb. 7.

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What’s the trend of the disease? Getting better but still not great.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen below 100 for the first time since late August. The number of deaths is slowly declining as well, but remains high – about six a day on average, more than we were seeing in all of November.

So although the situation looks to be getting much better, we need to keep in mind that the impact on people is still worse than it was last summer or fall. In other words: keep masking in crowded public spaces, remain cautious about exposure with strangers and, as always, get the vaccines and booster when you can.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)