CONCORD — Facing a surging need for care amid unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order to help relieve New Hampshire hospitals.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Sununu said this order will allow the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services to assist hospitals in setting up internal surge centers. He also said the office of professional licensure will be asked to streamline licensing to address staffing shortages.
“Our health-care system is resilient — there’s no doubt about it,” Sununu said. “But it is being tested with the increased amount of COVID that we’re seeing.”
State Epidemiologist Ben Chan said the state is averaging about 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. Hospitalizations and deaths due to the coronavirus continue to rise.
“We are currently seeing the highest level of COVID-19 in our communities that we’ve experienced at any point during this pandemic,” Chan said.
Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said as community transmission spreads, outbreaks in long-term care facilities are also increasing.
Last year, the state stood up gymnasiums and field houses to handle the overflow of COVID-19 patients, but after meeting with officials in Kentucky, Sununu said it became clear that the best care takes place on hospital campuses.
New Hampshire is also launching a new partnership with Amazon and the National Institutes of Health to expand access to COVID-19 at-home testing kits. He said Granite Staters will be able to order free coronavirus tests online that will be delivered by Amazon within a week. Schools will also have access to 50,000 rapid tests that will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Another contract approved by the Executive Council this week will make an additional 100,000 at-home PCR tests available to Granite Staters in December.
Sununu also emphasized the importance of getting a COVID-19 booster shot.
The state will host an event, dubbed the Booster Blitz, on Dec. 11 that will administer boosters at 20 sites statewide ahead of the Christmas holiday. Granite Staters will be able to sign up for an appointment at one of the sites in the next week.
Despite alarming case numbers, Sununu said he is not considering bringing back a mask mandate.
“If folks want to protect themselves, the answer is really in that vaccine,” he said. “It’s a very blanket approach. It’s not the end all, be all.”