Update: At about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, the state Senate issued a news release saying, “The state Senate learned this evening that one of its members, Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, has tested positive for COVID-19 after exhibiting symptoms this past Saturday, Dec. 19.”
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu confirmed at his news conference Tuesday that he knows of at least one more state legislator who tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized.
Sununu also gave Santa Claus a free pass to do his job, talked about the good news that Moderna vaccine is now going to be available and said the state doesn’t need to follow in Massachusetts path of closing bars early despite the surge.
When asked about the Republican lawmaker who was hospitalized, Sununu didn’t identify him by name and has said the number and names of legislators who test positive are confidential.
“We send all the prayers to them and their family. We are wishing them the best,” Sununu said.
A relative of state Rep. Fred Plett, R-Goffstown, posted on his Facebook page on Dec. 19 that Plett had been in the hospital since the previous Monday and was in intensive care unit with COVID-19 and pneumonia.
The issue has been controversial in the wake of House Speaker Dick Hinch’s death to the virus Dec. 9, one week after he was elected Speaker on Organization Day outdoors at UNU. About 80 House Republicans didn’t wear face coverings that day and at a previous GOP caucus gathering.
Last week, Speaker Pro Tem Kimberly Rice said on Facebook that she was recovering at home after contracting the virus. After Hinch’s death, the state had a special event day for any legislators and State House staff who wanted to be tested for COVID-19.
Sununu said Tuesday that legislative leaders are now looking at different options on how they will meet when the session begins in January but he said if they can work remotely or safely then they should be able to do so as long as they can vote.
“My sense is that they are looking at a fairly abbreviated schedule,” Sununu said. While this is a budget year and the budget is due in June, “they will have plenty of time to dig into it.”
The hardest part is the public hearings and he said that will be difficult in a pandemic. He said he had to veto a lot of bills this year because they did not have appropriate public hearings.
Santa Gets Green Light
Sununu also announced that Santa Claus has been deemed an “essential worker” who needs to be allowed to visit New Hampshire on Christmas Eve to do his work.
“Nothing is holding him back,” Sununu said, adding “he is not coming from Washington, so that means he will likely deliver on all he promises.”
He urged residents to go skiing, snowmobiling and enjoy the holidays in a safe and responsible way.
Long-Term Care Update
Sununu said the public-private partnership program to use Pfizer vaccines administered by CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities began on Monday, but he did not say how many have been vaccinated.
The Veterans Home in Tilton was expecting some of the vaccines to be administered Wednesday. At one time there were 190 active case at the home and now it is down to 21. The home has had 35 deaths related to COVID-19.
The state has about 100,000 individuals in the first high-risk category who need to be vaccinated but there are not enough vaccines yet, Sununu said. There is a plan to vaccinate a limited number of staff at each facility and that process is underway.
Sununu said if the state gets the Pfizer vaccine at the rate it anticipates, then most people in the congregate settings will see a vaccine by the third week in January, “but that is the general time frame we would like to see.”
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist announced there are now 624 new cases in the state as of Tuesday with a total of 6,485 active cases.
Hospitalizations are up to 297 but there were no deaths reported as of Tuesday. The number of deaths in New Hampshire is at 656. In the last week alone, Chan said, 52 people have died from the virus.
“Given the holidays and the potential for travel, the numbers remain at risk for going up,” Chan said, “so it is critical for people to not let their guard down now or in the incoming weeks.”
He said the vaccine will be “the most important new tool we have,” to fight the pandemic, but until we have a high level of vaccinations across the state, people need to follow the guidance, wear masks, social distance and avoid or postpone any unnecessary gatherings or travel.
Beth Daly of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in the past week since the first day of rollout, there have been 4,505 Pfizer doses sent to hospitals which have used 3,819 to help protect front-line workers to date.
On Monday, Dec. 28, Daly said the state will begin distributing information on how many doses have been administered daily.
She said the “big news” was the arrival of the Moderna vaccine for those 18 years and older and will require two doses 28 days apart.
“It is going to take several months to get everyone who wants to be vaccinated,” Daly said.
Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of Health and Human Services, gave a long-term care update with fewer new outbreaks than in previous weeks but some fairly large.
She said several congregate living facilities were removed from the state list of outbreaks, mostly in Manchester, but four new outbreaks were reported at Goldenview Health Center in Meredith, Keystone Hall in Nashua, the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin, and Wentworth Senior Living in Portsmouth.
Combined with another $1.4 trillion to keep the government running, Congress has passed as an addendum $900 billion for COVID-19 relief.
Sununu said the state does expect some additional clarity in the coming days on how much the state will get.
He said he sees more money for vaccines, personal protective equipment, contact tracing, schools, rental assistance, substance use disorder, transportation, unemployment relief, and there is “a lot of really good stuff” in there that supports what states are spending money on.
He said it looks like the feds will be re-upping the $300 a week unemployment help for another 11 weeks. There are still a lot of Granite Staters out of work and this added stipend, he said is “well-encouraged relief.”
As kids and teachers return to school in January, they will first be tested for the virus. Testing will be administered at local hospitals, outpatient medical centers, and at the National Guard in Concord and Londonderry.
Those who want to schedule their tests should visit nh.gov/covid19 and click “get tested” to help access a location closest. This is for school staff members and students who can expect to get an appointment within 24 hours of applying.
The Bay State is adding to their restrictions now and calling for the elimination of elective surgeries, but Sununu said he does not see New Hampshire doing the same right now. Regardless of what he does, he said hospitalizations will likely go up at some level in New Hampshire.
“My sense is that will continue to grow,” he said, based on the current number of cases.
He said closing the bars at 9:30 p.m. as Massachusetts has done, does not mean that people are not going to go to private residences to continue the night and that might lead to more cases of the virus.
Sununu’s weekly news briefing was moved to Tuesday because of the holiday and briefly delayed while President-elect Joe Biden held a live, televised press conference.
With the pandemic, Biden said, “Our darkest days with COVID are ahead of us.”
Biden said, “It is going to take patience, persistence, and determination to beat this virus.”
He also said the massive cybersecurity breach against United States companies and federal agencies needs a response.
“This all happened on Donald Trump’s watch. He was not watching,” Biden said.
He did not focus on suspects though some have speculated it was the Russians. Biden said he would focus on building his team in the next few weeks with an eye toward cybersecurity.
“In this year of pain and loss,” Biden said, “it is time to rebuild.”