An independent health research center has sharply increased its predictions for deaths in New Hampshire, as the Granite State experiences its worst run of COVID-19 deaths.
Granite State deaths could run about 10 a day the rest of May and could go as high as 16, according to May 12 projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. That is up significantly from last Friday, when the center projected an upper range of seven daily deaths.
On Wednesday, state officials announced eight more deaths, bringing the number to 150. The number of New Hampshire deaths from COVID-19 has jumped 35% in seven days.
“The mood is one of shock. It’s demoralizing,” said Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.
“We know we are going to have more fatalities, we know there are going to be a lot more COVID cases,” Gov. Chris Sununu said on Wednesday. “It is all about the ability of our health care system to manage the current pandemic.”
As of last week, 72% of New Hampshire deaths were associated with clusters, according to state data. Nearly all cluster outbreaks reported by the state have been in nursing homes.
The data also show that 94% of the COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire were people 60 or older, and nearly two-thirds were people 85 or older.
“Anyone who’s elderly is at risk. There are elderly people in the grocery store,” Williams said.
“People say, ‘Only those over 60 have died, so why not reopen everything but for those over 60?’” Sununu said. “That’s because those under 60 can easily become a transmitter to a grandmother or someone at work, whoever it might be.”
The IHME frequently updates its predictions based on data from states and countries.
The IHME predicts 424 New Hampshire deaths by Aug. 1, with a possible high of 960. Also on Tuesday, the IHME increased its projections for deaths in the United States to 147,000.
Sununu said the number shows the reason the state has to be careful. But he said the IHME figure is only one of about a dozen projections.
“Models are fine, but data trumps models,” he said.
With no cure for COVID-19 and a vaccine months away at best, Williams said testing and proper protective equipment are the only ways to combat the virus in nursing homes.
State officials announced in a webinar that they have completed testing of nursing home staffs in Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, Williams said. They were moving on to other counties and will also start testing nursing home residents.
But a nursing home worker could test negative one day, leave work, get exposed at the grocery store and return to work the next day and begin transmitting the virus, according to Williams.
He said nursing homes need access to on-demand, rapid response testing for workers on a daily basis.
“If that requires a mobile testing lab in the parking lot of every long-term care facility, I’d be happy with that,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group of health care workers and scientists has demanded that Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette turn over information they relied on to re-open the state.
The New Hampshire Science and Public Health Task Force filed a Right to Know Request for the information, according to a statement. The group said Sununu is not following Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which call for cases to be trending downward for 14 days.
“Governor Sununu is starting an early reopening using data that is not available to the public to justify the course of action,” said Dr. Michael Dowe in a statement. “Governor Sununu needs to put public health first, and that includes being transparent with the data he is using to make public health decisions.”
Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt said, “Health and Human Services releases new data and information every single day, and every step the state has taken has been vetted and approved by the experts at the Division of Public Health,” Vihstadt said.
Union Leader reporter Kevin Landrigan contributed to this article.