In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals like Dr. Benjamin Chan found themselves fully immersed in a universe revolving around one virus. Dr. Chan, the state epidemiologist for New Hampshire, was instrumental in tracking COVID-19 diligently, forging guidelines, keeping abreast of scientific developments, and conveying these discoveries and suggestions to the public.
Today, the healthcare landscape is gradually returning to a semblance of normalcy, with professionals like Dr. Chan transitioning back to their routine public health duties. Notwithstanding, the threat of COVID-19, albeit less publicized, persists. In both New Hampshire and on a national scale, COVID-19 hospital admissions have noticed an uptick since mid-July. Even so, the current figures pale in comparison to those recorded at the pandemic’s peak.
As per the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 during the week ending August 12 in New Hampshire, which was approximately half the number seen during the same period the previous year. Hospitals across New Hampshire are preparing for an anticipated surge in cases during the fall. This projected increase is due not only to COVID-19, but also to surges in other respiratory viruses like flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which typically amplify during colder months.
‘The normalization of our daily routines could result in respiratory viruses reverting to their usual circulation patterns,’ warns Dr. Chan. Hospitals will be especially vigilant in tracking viruses like the flu and RSV, which largely remained dormant during the pandemic due to mitigation measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing. The receding of such measures prompted a surge in these viruses, which compounded with the existing COVID-19 cases, strained the health system.
This year, hospitals are enhancing preparation for the possibility of a resurgence in outpatient and emergency department visits by stocking up on vaccines and personal protective equipment. At Elliot Hospital in Manchester, Chief Medical Officer Kevin Desrosiers emphasizes the importance of directing patients to the appropriate healthcare settings to prevent the emergency department from being overburdened. The hospital seeks to enhance patient services by expanding after-hours clinics and capacity. It will also enhance testing for flu, COVID, and RSV, and expand the use of virtual appointments.
Steve Ahnen, New Hampshire Hospital Association’s president, confirms that hospitals will continue their alliance to ensure that patients promptly receive the care they need where they need it. He acknowledges the significant strides made in the healthcare system concerning vaccines, testing, and treatments since the onset of the pandemic.
Looking ahead, as we approach the ‘respiratory virus season’ of late fall and winter, medical professionals encourage vaccination and boosters to both protect individual health and alleviate the overall burden on the healthcare system.
Updated COVID-19 boosters are anticipated in mid- to late-September, which can be administered simultaneously with annual flu shots. Additional tools to combat RSV are now available, including a recently FDA-approved vaccine for adults aged 60 and above and a new monoclonal antibody treatment capable of heightening RSV immunity in infants and toddlers.
Lastly, Dr. Chan reminds the populace of essential precautionary actions such as handwashing, covering coughs, and isolation during illness, stressing that vaccination is the first line of defense in mitigating disease spread.