COVID-19 Cases are Rapidly Declining. What Comes Next?

We expect COVID-19 to reach a period where it is always present, but we have ways of protecting ourselves.

Michael S. Calderwood, MD, MPH

COVID-19 cases are trending in the right direction: downward. Positive COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire have plunged 97% from their mid-January peak, and hospitalizations are 92% lower than their height in mid-December. The number of people testing positive is at 3%, which is much more manageable than New Hampshire’s 26% test positivity rate during the Omicron surge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 transmission map now shows all of New Hampshire in the green, which signifies low community transmission. While certain safeguards are being lifted as a result, you may be wondering what we can expect in the coming months.

Encouraging outlook

Currently, the medical community is tracking the number of people who are in the hospital due to COVID-19 and how many hospital beds are staffed. This is more reliable than reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in the community, which is likely not accurate because of the availability of home testing.

Michael S. Calderwood, MD, MPH, chief quality officer, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) reports positive projections. “We think we are going to reach a point where we continue with low level activity of this virus—what we describe as an endemic,” he explains. “We expect COVID-19 to reach a period where it is always present, but we have ways of protecting ourselves. We have vaccines that are incredibly protective against hospitalization and severe illness, medications you can take by mouth and   monoclonal antibodies that can be given intravenously or intramuscularly. We are in a much different state than we were a year ago.”

There are many endemic viruses we live with, and COVID-19 will become one of them. Once the virus reaches its endemic stage, individuals who feel sick should stay home and test for COVID-19—and wear masks to protect others from contracting their illness.

Masks on or off?

Mask requirements in the community are now shifting, and fewer people are wearing them. Those who are at risk for severe illness caused by COVID-19—or who live with or care for others with that higher risk—will continue to use masks.

“Some are looking to toss that mask aside, and we are thankfully getting to a point where we can have those conversations. We ask that you have kindness and realize that people are going to be at different points of comfort in terms of removing their mask,” Calderwood says. “Keep a mask in your pocket in case someone asks you to put it on. Remember that it is easy to wear a mask, and it is something that has kept us safe for quite a long time.”

Calderwood encourages the community to follow the latest COVID-19 developments at