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Sununu: N.H. making progress against COVID-19

CONCORD – New Hampshire is making progress against COVID-19 with increased vaccinations, slightly fewer deaths and reduced hospitalizations, Gov. Chris Sununu and state officials said.

The state also is working toward visitations at long-term care facilities and helping people with rent and utilities in a new program, Sununu said.

It came on the same day the state announced six new deaths with only one associated with a long-term care facility. The state dipped below 100 hospitalizations for the first time since mid-November with 97 people hospitalized, and now about 15 percent of the population of the state has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Next week, it is possible that not only will the state see a bump up in more Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses, but it may see a roll-out of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it is approved over the weekend.

“We are rolling along, we are doing well,” Sununu said. “We are calling 10,000 people a week,” to move them up on the list for second vaccine appointments and “we keep moving people up…as we get more and more vaccines into the state.”

Sununu urged people to pick up the phone to get a newer, better date for a second shot.

Sununu also said if he were a Congressman he would be a “no” vote in Washington on the upcoming “giant” COVID-19 relief bill saying it’s too expensive and the formula rewards bad behavior among states.

New Hampshire, he boasted, is not among those states which did not shut down at the beginning of the pandemic and now needs more help.

Sununu said the state would get to the bottom of what happened at the state Veterans Home and other long-term care facilities where 80 percent or more of all the deaths occurred but he offered no deadlines or specifics and he called an op-ed piece by state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, seeking more information on the Veterans Home crisis “politics.”

He also took a swipe at Democratic House members who got up and left during a session Wednesday and said that in the past, former Democratic House Speaker Steve Shurtleff would lock the doors to keep House members in their seat for a vote, as Republican Speaker Sherman Packard did on Wednesday.

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Health Update

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said that on Thursday there were 355 new people diagnosed with COVID-19 averaging 350 a day over seven days, a small decrease from the previous week and 2,858 currently with the virus in the state.

He said that the deaths reported Thursday would indicate that now a majority of fatalities related to the pandemic are coming from community settings. Chan said he wanted to continue to stress the importance of people wearing face masks and getting vaccinated when it is their turn.

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Vaccination

Update

Dr. Beth Daly of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases gave a progress report on efforts to vaccinate all residents. She said as of Thursday, the state had administered 288,000 doses of the vaccine including 197,000 who have had their first dose and 91,000 who have had their second and final dose.

This week the state received 27,740 doses and next week expects a small increase to 30,800 available. That does not include what might happen if federal officials approve the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

Daly said if approved it could be in New Hampshire next week. In addition, more vaccines are coming into the state through a federal program with the drug store chain Walgreens which will allow more people to be vaccinated faster.

At the state’s hard-hit long-term care facilities, second doses will be completed by the end of the week and the state will be taking back 9,000 doses that were unused and will be redistributing throughout the state based on the phased approach.

The state’s equity program to distribute vaccines continues to grow and an additional 18 events are planned to be added next week for those who are in communities of color, low income or face other hardships.

Demographic data about who is getting the vaccine is being compiled but has not yet been released, Daly said.

She urged those who are struggling with getting a second vaccine dose to call 2-1-1.

The governor said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, like Moderna and Pfizer, is extremely effective against hospitalizations and fatalities.

“The message is they are all very safe, they are all very effective,” Sununu said. He said people, however, will not be able to pick from a menu which vaccine they want. “You might not be able to have a menu, per se, it’s not going to work like that,” he said.

The governor said the limitations on vaccines are purely a matter of lack of dosage. “Space and logistics will not be the limiting factor here,” Sununu said.

He said in the next few weeks they will announce logistics for the next phase of vaccines which includes teachers, school bus drivers, and daycare workers.

He said ABLE NH for disabled families has criticized the rollout of Phase 1B and indicated there was some miscommunication, but issues are being worked out to ensure that caregivers of youngsters with disabilities can get the vaccine in the current phase.

He noted phases don’t end, and people can sign up as soon as they turn 65 for getting the vaccine.

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Long-Term Care

Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said things continue to improve at long-term care facilities with only seven active outbreaks. The state this week closed five outbreaks.

Shibinette said now that second rounds of vaccines have been administered it is time to revisit the issue of visitation at these facilities which have been walled off to friends and family during much of the pandemic, and that has had an emotional toll on the residents.

“Now that we are well into vaccinations, public health and our licensing and certification bureau will be releasing guidance next week that will require for any non-outbreak facilities and have completed two doses plus 14 days, compassionate care visits,” she said.

“This is something we have been waiting to do for a very long time.”

She said the vast majority of such facilities have started to allow for some visitation and it is “really important” that we start having these long-term care visits, especially as the spring months arrive. The governor noted that the decline in deaths in long-term care facilities is “astounding” and gave partial credit to the rollout of the vaccine.

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