By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – One million more in-home rapid tests were purchased Wednesday by the state and the plan is to sell them at cost in the liquor stores beginning in the next few weeks.
There are 68 liquor stores throughout the state and Gov. Chris Sununu said they are going to be distributed based on projected volume.
At his weekly press briefing Wednesday in Concord, he announced the $12 million purchase, approved by the Executive Council Wednesday, and he said they will be sold at a cost of about $17 per single test, which can be covered by insurance.
Money collected can go back into buying more tests, he said.
He said the order for the at-home tests went out after the vote in the morning at the Executive Council, though he noted he was “hopefully optimistic” that the order would be filled.
Last week, he noted that the states of Maryland and Virginia both reported their orders were pulled back because the Biden Administration was taking up the supply to offer millions for free online.
Those tests are still available, but there is a few weeks’ expected delay before they arrive in homes across the country.
Sununu said the idea is to fill the shelves and make tests available to keep in medicine cabinets when and if needed.
Sununu said the state is still seeing “pretty high levels” of the virus but it is not accelerating as it has for the past month.
Hospitalizations are still high, he said and he anticipated that to be the case for at least for the next few weeks.
Dr. Benjamin Chan state epidemiologist, said that although the data is incomplete, the state is reporting at least 1,023 new cases Wednesday, and 13,870 active cases.
He described a “high level of COVID-19” statewide.
The state positivity rate is coming down a bit from last week. Last week it was 22 percent compared to 17 for this week.
Still, he said, hospitalizations remain high with 401 reported Wednesday.
The state reported three new deaths with a total of 2,173 lives lost to COVID-19 in the past almost two years.
Chan said the state reported 59 new deaths last week and is averaging eight new deaths per day.
In other countries, there has been a rapid drop-off in Omicron cases once it peaks but that is not yet seen here, Chan said.
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the state has opened seven new outbreaks of three or more cases of COVID-19 and closed out two from this time last week for a total of 47.
Many prisons and jails now have outbreaks though some have closed.
What we are seeing, she said, is that the fatality rate is not as high nor is it spreading as it was before vaccinations were made available last year.
“We are still tracking it for now but it is not having the (death) outcomes in 2021,” Shibinette said.
The state got word Wednesday that the Elliot Hospital strike team will be able to stay longer than expected, until March 7, “which is really just terrific,” the governor said.
Sununu said the out-of-state teams have been very successful in providing flexibility to health-care providers in hard-hit Manchester.
He called them “another tool in the toolbox” and thanked the partnership with FEMA and the federal Department of Defense.
“We want to thank them,” Sununu said.
Update Fixed Testing Sites
Testing is going to be so important going forward, Sununu said, and efforts to create fixed sites across the state continue.
The state has now opened sites in Belmont and Lincoln and next Monday, in Keene.
If the Omicron variant is the last variant we see, summer might be pretty good in New Hampshire, the governor predicted.
Last year, the state saw record revenue numbers from tourism as people decided to stay closer to home to vacation.
“I think it is going to be a great tourism season,” he said.
The state has “always played for the long game, creating a system that is durable for the long term,” and is not going back to the mandated shutdowns which were required in 2020.
He said if there is another variant, “all bets are off.”
ER Boarding Crisis
The Emergency Room boarding crisis among those seeking psychiatric help has ranged from there being fewer than 10 during the holidays to as many as 25 kids waiting for placement.
On Wednesday, the state purchased Hampstead Hospital and plans to switch the private psychiatric hospital to children during the coming year.
Shibinette said the severity of the crisis depends on if there is an outbreak at one of the residential programs and they have to stop or slow admission and other factors.
She said the state is contracting with a third-party provider to operate Hampstead and currently 45 of its 111 beds are occupied by children.
She said the hope is to have 20 more beds available by the end of this calendar year.
Sununu said a $100 million compensation fund for victims of the Sununu Youth Services Center abuse over the years is being created.
“What this new fund says to the victims is that we are not walking away from this,” he said. “We are unfortunately going to own that terrible tragedy.”
Sununu said the amount was “a bold number. A nine-digit number. The state is going forward with full transparency,” he said, and the hope is to make the abusers accountable and the victims at least financially whole.