By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Facing some of the worst statistics during the pandemic with hospitalizations straining capacity and federal emergency resources being drawn here, Gov. Chris Sununu announced measures Wednesday to counter COVID-19 to bring numbers down including more in-home tests and new fixed vaccination sites.
Asked at Sununu’s press conference Wednesday about a refrigerator truck for possible corpses if things get worse confirmed at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan said he hadn’t heard that report.
“That is something I have not heard hospitals having to employ,” Chan said. He said that is something we saw early in the pandemic. “That’s something we want to prevent. It is preventable,” Chan said, stressing the importance of getting vaccinated.
Sununu responded saying it was one of the precautionary measures early on.
“It’s a very scary precautionary measure, but an appropriate one as a just in case. We’re not out of the woods on this thing at all,” Sununu said.
His overall message was optimistic saying the hospitalizations are down slightly at 400 and there was no mention that Tuesday saw 25 new deaths due to COVID-19, likely the highest since the start of the pandemic.
There were seven COVID-19 deaths announced at the news conference.
About $55 million was approved by the Executive Council Wednesday for six more fixed vaccination sites and Thursday about 750,000 in-home testing kits will be made available to order for homes that did not receive the initial free kits.
The number of test kits will be limited but the state believes about 180,000 more homes could get those delivered to their doors for free, using the state’s website nh.gov/covid19
Currently, almost 25,000 children or about 25 percent of eligible children age 5 and up have received a single dose of the vaccine, the average number of hospitalizations has declined slightly over the past two weeks and the state’s new case count is going down slightly compared to other states, Sununu said.
The week did involve news of the state’s first child death due to COVID-19 and a few new cases of the Omicron variant identified now totaling 9.
The death of the child “hit home to a lot of folks. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family,” Sununu said. Asked if it could be used to catalyze more to vaccinate their children, the governor said, “you don’t want to use that as the driver.”
Asked if people should avoid gathering for the holidays, Sununu said he does not want “to be the Grinch.” But gatherings can be achieved without adding to the burden provided people, “Do it smart. Have an idea of who you might be with,” and whether those individuals have underlying conditions, Sununu said.
“Ask people to be smart,” he said.
Chan said there were 983 new cases reported Wednesday, not counting the backlog. The average daily new cases of COVID-19 within the state is over 1,000 a day and the number of active cases is now at 8,495. The state’s test positivity rate is at 12 percent and in the hospital right now there are 400 patients who are being treated for COVID-19.
Unfortunately, he said, there were seven new deaths to report bringing the total to 1,875 with two of the new cases associated with long-term care facilities.
Chan said the losses point to the importance of vaccinations and booster doses, particularly important as the Omicron variant increases.
Chan urged people to get tested after returning from travel and gatherings and he recommended the tests be given five to seven days after return.
He urged folks to keep gatherings small and be aware of settings and use layered preventions strategies like vaccination, masking, and other tools.
The situation with the state’s long-term care facilities is holding steady, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette. She said the state closed three outbreaks and opened three new ones this week so the status remains steady at 25 outbreaks.
Sununu talked about the new initiatives announced by President Joe Biden this week that will benefit New Hampshire.
Sununu said the state has yet to receive confirmation that new teams are coming to the state other than the ones which were requested.
“We are hopeful,” Sununu said.
Currently, the state has a medical team from FEMA in Manchester but the team is leaving Thursday.
While it is possible the state may get another team, this one appears to be ending its deployment.
“We can’t thank them enough for keeping that flow of patients moving through,” Sununu said.
He said he is still advocating for more help monitoring of monoclonal antibodies with staff which takes a lot of time to administer.
Finally, Biden is agreeing now with the state’s efforts to expand in-home testing, Sununu said, noting this was the first state to offer the tests en masse. The state was the first to offer 1 million tests which were taken up in about a day.
Sununu said he was very excited to see the change of course where Biden announced the government was prebuying 500,000,000 tests.
In the meantime, he said, the state is entering its second phase of offering such tests through its, “Say Yes to the Test” initiative.
Starting Thursday, any household that did not receive one of the first wave of test kits will have a shot at getting their own set sent to their home. There will be about 750,000 tests available.
With limits on the quantities any home can receive, he said the state estimates 180,000 households will be able to get them. They will be sent out just after Christmas.
Approved Wednesday by the Executive Council was another $55 million in requests to respond to the pandemic.
Critically, it approved six new vaccination sites on a walk-in basis in addition to four current sites.
It did not go down without a procedural fight where councilors initially voted to reject the funds because the Sununu administration did not put the contract out to bid.
But after Sununu asked for reconsideration, the contract was approved.
The beauty of a fixed site is that there are no appointments and “you can literally show up tomorrow,” and get a shot.
These locations will be in Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Keene, Salem, Exeter, and the Berlin/Gorham Area.
An effort to waive Medicaid approval for some elderly waiting in hospital beds for a nursing home bed is freeing up badly needed space for COVID-19 and other critical care patients, the governor said.
There are 40 more hospital beds now than there were on Dec. 8.
Booster Blitz Jan. 8
The governor noted that there is going to be another Booster Blitz on Jan. 8. and that the state is taking 13,000 appointments for it in 14 locations starting Jan. 3.
The sites may be a bit different from the first blitz, Sununu said noting Stratham’s will move to Exeter to allow for a better traffic flow.
These are not for first or second vaccines but only for boosters.
A change in federal rules will allow the state to use up some of its federal CARES Act money after the end of 2021 allowing $10 million to go to hospitals to help them out, Sununu said. It will allow every hospital to see some more funding.
All hospitals will get something based on their bed count.