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Sununu warns pandemic could be worse than last winter

By Paula Tracy - InDepthNH | Oct 28, 2021

CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu said he is going to resume weekly updates on COVID-19 as the viral surge expected in fall and winter is here.

“This winter could be tough,” Sununu warned Wednesday at a press conference, saying he expects the pandemic might be worse than last winter.

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced 11 additional COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Also, with the “big step” coming forward to possibly vaccinate kids age 5-11 in the next few weeks, the state has ordered 15,000 vaccines to be ready to be put in arms the moment the FDA approves them.

But Sununu and health-care officials noted that appointments and in-school clinics could be delayed a few weeks after the Executive Council refused $27 million for vaccinations two weeks ago, fearing that language would tie the state to federal mandates, which the governor said it would not do.

The council did approve $4.7 million Wednesday, but it still will mean a likely lag in being able to get access after the likely approval for 125,000 kids is made by the FDA.

Sununu said by resuming weekly press briefings likely on Wednesdays or Thursdays at 3 p.m. will allow the state to stay “ahead of the ball,” and noted that he did predict a fall surge was going to happen months ago.


COVID Update

Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist said New Hampshire has high levels of community transmission statewide and are averaging 550 new cases a day with a daily positivity rate of 6 percent.

On Wednesday, hospitals across the state were treating 207 with COVID-19 and in the past few days, there have been 11 new deaths, including four Wednesday for a total number of lives lost at 1,556.

Vaccinations remain readily available, he said, and are still the safest and best way to prevent illness.

Using federal CDC data, he said it appears more than 12,000 residents have received a booster which is about 1.5 percent of all vaccinated.

Now, he said boosters are available for anyone 18 and older including those who got the single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

It is recommended that those people get a second dose at least two months after the first. For those who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, boosters are allowed six months after their second dose, Chan said.

Heterologous dosing or mixing and matching is also allowed for those who got one dose. Chan said some studies have shown higher antibody boosting rates among those who mix and match. Finally, he said the state is eagerly looking forward to being able to vaccinate children 5 to 11 years old, with parental permission.

Chan said the FDA’s science advisory committee voted to recommend that this happens and once it is formally accepted and adopted the state is preparing to provide doses. Chan said the FDA is set to meet next week and “hopefully, the next week or the week after we can start administering those vaccines.”


Long-Term Care Update

Lori Shibinette, commissioner for the Department of Health and Human Services, gave an update on concerns for COVID-19 among the state’s long-term care facilities. She reported the closure of three outbreaks and the opening of seven for a total of 16 current outbreaks at institutions.

The state is relaunching its homebound program with Onsite Medical. Make an appointment to start the series, 603-338-9292 or www.onsitenh.com/vaccine to request an appointment.



The state has preordered approximately 15,000 children’s doses and expects them to be shipped out upon CDC approval to physicians. Pharmacies will be receiving doses directly from the federal government and this may mean shots in the little arms as early as the end of next week.


Trucking and More

The governor announced a number of initiatives using federal money and noted there are funds available to recruit truck drivers.

“We do want to make sure we support the shipping needs,” Sununu said in announcing about $4.6 million that will be available to support NH’s commercial transportation industries.

Concerns for deliveries for everything from fuel drivers to school bus drivers are present.

Sununu said the funds will allow for more testing sites.

Remaining CARES Act funds are still available, including $11.5 million for long-term care facilities, which have faced the brunt of the pandemic with the worst outcomes. They will receive grants and incentives to increase occupancy.

About $3.2 million will be allocated for food pantries, he said, and it will help those who face food insecurity. About 10 percent of the state is food insecure.

A $6 million program was also announced for shelters and homelesss costs. Shelters can apply for increased operations costs.

A $4 million program is now available for the state’s senior centers. They have been hit hard by the pandemic Sununu said and this will allow for them to build and refurbish facilities to allow for social distancing.

All these dollars will be allocated over the next six weeks, he said.

Also, $12 million will be made available for emergency equipment which in some cases can help with the shortage of labor.

This will be a matching grant program, Sununu said.


Financial Incentives

Sununu said he does not think it appropriate to offer financial incentives for health care decisions. He said he would not offer financial incentives to get more kids vaccinated, once available.

“The choices we made earlier on were the right decision,” he said and noted he is comfortable with not offering such incentives as has occurred in other states.


Long-Term Care

Shibinette said the booster shots at nursing homes are being administered and well underway as the centers have already received the vaccines. That population is not directly impacted by the state Executive Council’s decision to refuse $27 million for the state’s vaccination program.

The good news is that the state does have a high vaccination rate at those facilities and many of those individuals, who received their vaccines six months ago, are getting their boosters on time, she said. The efforts started a week and a half ago.

She said outbreaks today look different than a year ago at nursing homes. Last year, the facilities would go from one case to 30 in a day, now there are fewer new cases from day to day. She wanted to stress that nursing homes should use monoclonal antibodies as soon as possible to reduce the severity of illness.

Most elderly in nursing homes got Pfizer shots, she said.


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