By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Gov. Chris Sununu is taking steps to free up intensive care beds in New Hampshire’s hospitals amid a “record” surge of COVID-19 infections.
On Tuesday, Sununu signed an executive order authorizing hospitals to set up acute care “surge centers” to help absorb expected waves of new patients amid the colder weather.
“There’s no doubt we are seeing record levels of cases and hospitalizations,” Sununu told reporters during a briefing. “This winter surge that we predicted is now unfortunately rearing its ugly head, and we are definitely in the throes of it, not just in New Hampshire but all across New England.”
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state’s epidemiologist, said the state is seeing the highest number of daily COVID-19 infections “at any point during the pandemic” with an average of about 1,000 new cases a day.
He said there are 7,627 “active” infections – with 561 new cases and four deaths reported on Tuesday – and a test positivity rate of about 9.5%. About 350 people are hospitalized.
To date, the state has reported 153,934 COVID-19 cases and 1,672 deaths since the pandemic began, Chan said.
It’s not clear whether so-called “breakthrough” cases – where individuals become infected even after they’ve been vaccinated – are playing a major role in the latest surge.
New Hampshire has a system to track vaccine purchases, but currently doesn’t keep statewide records of patients who have been immunized. Health officials say that makes it harder to track immunizations and cases where fully vaccinated people get infected.
“If we don’t know who has been vaccinated we can’t say how many breakthrough cases there have been,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said during the briefing.
Sununu urged residents who haven’t been vaccinated to get their shots and those who have been fully vaccinated to get their booster doses, with all adults now authorized to get them.
As of Tuesday, at least 54.9% of Granite Staters have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
Sununu is predicting a “bumpy road” over the next few weeks but said he has no plans to declare another state of emergency.
He suggested he could take other steps in coming weeks if COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise, but that likely wouldn’t include another statewide mask mandate.
“Our health care system is resilient, but it is being tested with these increased rates and amounts of COVID,” Sununu said. “This executive order will help meet those challenges.”