By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – As new cases of COVID-19 continue to grow slowly in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu and his top health staff returned to the podium for a live, televised press conference Thursday to give residents an update and to urge all those who have not been fully vaccinated to do so.
But he said the state is under no state of emergency anymore and he does not anticipate any future statewide return to a mask mandate.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist said the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus is growing and spreading in the state and there have been some breakthrough cases among those fully vaccinated.
He said there were 48 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday after two days of 60 or more cases, and a total of 308 active cases with 22 people hospitalized Thursday.
Sadly, another death was reported bringing to 1,385 deaths since the pandemic began.
Fully Vaccinate Infections
There have been 10 deaths and 505 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 since Feb. 1 among those who have been fully vaccinated, officials said. Both are a very small percent of the 749,000 in the state who are now protected, officials said.
The number of breakthrough cases is up from 443 a week ago. One new death in a fully vaccinated person was reported at the news conference, bringing the total to 10.
The state has seen a two-fold increase in the seven-day average number of cases from 20 to 40 in the past month and while the test positivity rate is at 1.9 percent, it is ticking up, officials said.
Chan said the deaths among the unvaccinated and new cases are “unfortunately preventable,” because people could be protected if they chose to get the vaccine. And the rates of vaccinations vary by town, though data on that is still not yet being released by the state.
“There are still differences town by town,” Chan said.
“Those with 70 and 80 percent fully vaccinated will have lower rates of transmission,” he said, and the communities with lower rates are the areas he is most concerned about “because the risk is going to be community by community.”
Sununu said in the southern parts of the country where the vaccination percentiles are lower, the stories of deaths among the unvaccinated are heartbreaking.
“It’s real. But we all have the power to stop it,” Sununu said.
About 1,000 residents a week continue to be vaccinated and the state now has mobile vaccination units with all three approved vaccines aboard. The mobile unit went out on the road and is available to come to your neighborhood block party, said Dr. Beth Daly, head of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
She said the unit has had about 100 requests to go to churches, places of work, and community events and this week, about 50 people have been vaccinated through the new unit.
This week, the state passed the 100,000 mark for cases of the virus since last March, with a total of 100,120 cases now and the governor called it a very grim milestone. Still, about 98 percent of those individuals have recovered from COVID-19.
Schools will open in a few weeks in the state but Sununu said he plans no new guidance for them and expects that they will have to look at cases on a local level and decide what protocols to implement if they see, as he expects, a continued increase in cases. He said private schools have the right to require vaccinations, but public schools do not.
Ben Vihstadt, the governor’s press secretary clarified after the press conference that the governor was specifically referring to private colleges as well as universities and private businesses that have the right to mandate a vaccine.
However, Vihstadt said in an email, according to the Attorney General, under current law “which has been in existence for decades – a private K-12 school cannot mandate any vaccines that are not expressly listed in the law or subsequent administrative rules from HHS.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been given emergency use authorization and are not fully authorized yet, although Pfizer has applied for permanent authorization.
Chan said booster shots are being explored and it is possible there may be new guidance on when and if boosters are needed, particularly among the immunocompromised in the months to come.
Sununu noted that the fall will likely also see an uptick in the number of people seeking employment once the summer vacation period has ended, children go back to school and do not require expensive child care options, and those who have gone back to vocational school to learn a new skill complete their education.
He said it is not likely that the crunch in lack of workers for many summer seasonal workers will see any major change in the numbers.
The state still has lots of federal money to distribute to those who need rental assistance with about 1,000 cases in the queue and $26 million approved to help people out. The state is also distributing $10 million to the hard-hit hospitality industry, with 130 awards made and $2.5 million for live performance venues.
The state is also still entertaining relief requests for businesses that received federal relief money and can demonstrate that they did use the money for COVID-19 related expenses, rather than having to return that money to the federal government.
Daly said the state is no longer asking the federal government for weekly allocations of the vaccines as that demand has trickled, and there are now over 500 locations in the state for people to get a free shot or two.
The governor said the state has done a great job getting people to take the shot and that it is safe.
He noted that to celebrate the fact the state has done so well, he is planning three free events in lieu of an inauguration gala which never occurred this winter, and information about events including a trip on the Conway Scenic Railroad in August, a Fisher Cats game and a harvest festival will be soon available at a new website, super603.com
“Collectively, I think we did a phenomenal job,” Sununu said.
But he warned it is still not over.
“COVID is very much still with us, especially the Delta variant,” which is impacting the younger and unvaccinated populations across the country.
“We have the power,” he said, to prevent these tragedies. “Talk to your doctor.”