WHY ACCEPT a certain number of deaths when we can prevent them with firm action?

That’s our response to “Grim COVID-19 predictions for NH revised downward” printed in the Union Leader, which quoted our letter dated April 5, 2020 letter and cited predictions from the state Department of Health and Human Services and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) models of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Forward-looking data analyses have uncertainty built into them. But the uncertainties in these models represent actual New Hampshire lives that could potentially be saved. The number of COVID-19 cases is low in New Hampshire because just 0.5% of us have been tested. This means 99.5% (about 1,293,500 in the state) haven’t been. This lack of critical information should scare us all.

People are being denied testing and told to stay home unless they experience breathing problems. Other COVID-19 fatalities likely go uncounted for lack of testing, especially in geriatric cases and individuals with several medical conditions.

The fallacy that New Hampshire is on the right track comes down to three issues:

We don’t know actual prevalence of COVID-19 due to a lack of testing.

We aren’t therefore able to react in real-time to protect people from threats.

And the number of fatalities attributed to COVID-19 is likely inaccurate.

Jake Leon, director of communications for Health and Human Services, referred to the models changing as we learn more about the virus. That is not true. It is not the virus we are lacking information about. We have deep knowledge of coronaviruses dating back about 50 years. What we’re lacking is data from a properly conducted testing strategy across the state.

The fluctuations we are seeing in deaths are not because of an unknown pathogen, the fluctuations are due to ignorance as to the number of people with the disease here. Any model is fundamentally flawed when we have little to no testing penetration in most New Hampshire communities.

This is a disease that is transmitted by aerosol and droplets coughed or breathed by infected people who may not yet have any symptoms. Social distancing, when actually followed, is helpful. Masks or face coverings also are very effective. But we’ve hamstrung our most effective approaches by stalling at enforcing distancing measures and masks. Instead, we use a lot of public relations bandwidth in enormously ineffective pleas for the public and businesses to clean surfaces.

The new models offered by Washington’s IHME put heavier emphasis on the “…benefit of social distancing orders such as school closures, stay at home, and non-essential business closures.” While New Hampshire has taken social distancing steps, we need data from testing to know when people can go back to work and their regular lives.

IHME is trying to do the right thing by “incorporating the accuracy of predictions from the early days of its model,” but this is not the best practice in model refinement. The early models were only “more accurate” due to random chance and smaller sample sizes. In reality, with a constantly changing set of prior assumptions, this approach doesn’t pass muster.

The COVID-19 outbreak isn’t almost over now. Nor will it be in two weeks. We haven’t “almost beaten this” because we haven’t even started properly measuring it yet. We want to measure success in lives saved, not by celebrating an ongoing low death rate.

Ben Locwin, PhD, MBA, MS, MBB, Portsmouth; John Stevens, PhD, CEO and chairman of Visible Assets, Stratham; Mindi F. Messmer, PG, CG, M.S. Clinical and Translational Science, Rye; Richard Dipentima, former state epidemiologist and House member, Portsmouth; Nora Traviss, PhD, Environmental Health, Keene.

Thursday, September 24, 2020
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

IT WAS ONCE written of Chester Arthur, the 21st president, that “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired...more generally respected, alike by political foe and friend.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2020
  • Updated

EVERY TIME military officers are promoted, they repeat the oath of office they took when first commissioned: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

AS THE Union Leader and many other papers have reported, all of New Hampshire is experiencing some level of drought and nearly one quarter of the state is experiencing severe drought (despite our recent batch of rain), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Monday, September 21, 2020

THE PANDEMIC grinds on. A fraught new school year begins (sort of). Chilly weather brings ominous thoughts of how much more difficult it will be to keep distanced and stay safe. And hundreds of thousands in the Granite State struggle with maddeningly slow and unreliable internet service — if…

Sunday, September 20, 2020
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IN THE summer of 2010, I started seeing flags everywhere. It was like when you buy a new car and then start seeing the same vehicle on every street you drive. The official name is the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon,” also known as “frequency illusion.” No matter the name, during that summer, fla…

WHEN I ANSWERED the front door one Sunday morning, a chaplain, a U.S. Navy admiral, and a casualty notification officer came bearing news from Londonderry. News I had to share with the primary next of kin — a dedicated Navy wife of 11 years — upstairs in our family’s home on the Naval Air St…

Friday, September 18, 2020
Thursday, September 17, 2020

IN RESPONSE to the well-written article by Jim Adams, former district manager of the Postal Service, although his opinion piece was accurate, it also omitted some significant changes in recent postal operations that go beyond a mere continuation of former policies. Most of the changes instit…

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

WHILE THE primaries are a fading image in the rear-view mirror and the chosen candidates are fully immersed in their general election stumping, there are still some interesting lessons to be learned from the results of those primary contests.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Monday, September 14, 2020

I’VE BEEN an activist since I was eight years old. As a kid of Polish descent growing up in Minnesota, other kids would tease me for my funny-sounding name (it’s pronounced My-ka). I could sit there and take it, or I could stand up for myself. I chose the latter and I’ve been doing so ever since.

IN CELEBRATION of the start of hunting season, Andy Schafermeyer devoted his September 6 “Adventures Afield” column to advertising different ways to hunt black bears. Bear hunting season in New Hampshire began Sept. 1.