As pandemic eases, NH state of emergency ends while vaccine supplies go unused
But governor warns, ‘the pandemic crisis and emergency has passed us … there is still a lot to manage’
New Hampshire didn’t have to order any Covid-19 vaccines this week and ordered half as usual last week as vaccination rates continue to decline, more evidence of continued improvement in the pandemic that led Gov. Chris Sununu to end the state of emergency as of Friday midnight.
The state of emergency allowed Sununu and government agencies to make quick changes as the pandemic hit, but most of those changes have already wound down, Sununu said during Thursday’s weekly press briefing. “The vast majority of citizens won’t even know the state of emergency is done.”
The state will remain under the status of a public health incident, Sununu said. That legal category allows the Department of Health and Human Services flexibility in staffing as well as liability protection for health care providers.
“We’re not out of this, there is still a lot to manage,” Sununu said. “The pandemic crisis and emergency has passed us, but there is still a lot to manage.”
The most public of coming changes from pandemic practices have already been announced: Last month the statewide mask mandate was lifted and Sununu has ordered the state to stop participating in the extra $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits as of June 19. A one-time stipend of $500 for part-time work and $1,000 for full-time work is being offered for people who accept jobs off unemployment.
The state’s Covid-19 numbers continue to improve as the percentage of eligible people being fully vaccinated nears 60%. Vaccination rates have fallen here, as in much of the country, to the point that the state ordered only half of its federally allotted supply of vaccine last week, and took none at all this week because it had supplies on hand, according to DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette.
Sununu said New Hampshire would not be offering financial rewards, running a lottery or using other incentives to increase the rate of vaccination.
“If you have chosen not to get a vaccine by now we’re not going to pay you to do that … not going to overly incentivize you,” he said. He pointed out that it’s still unclear whether, or how often, boosters will be required and whether vaccines would be approved for people under 12 years of age.
Not going away
Despite the good news on the pandemic in New Hampshire and many parts of the country, Covid-19 remains in full force throughout much of the world. Four variants of the virus, some of which are more contagious than the original strain, are known to be circulating in the state.
“We are seeing a pullback on the pandemic response, but Covid is likely to be with us for weeks, months, years, likely into the future,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist. “We need to learn, figure out how we manage it, like other infectious diseases.”
“We don’t believe Covid is going to be eliminated in the United States. How we manage it going forward is going to depend on how low we can get it … and how high we can get vaccinations,” Chan added.
“Nobody knows what the true point of herd immunity is. We just want as many people to get vaccinated as possible,” Sununu said, adding that he expected “well over 70% of adults in the state should be fully vaccinated by mid-summer.”
In one other sign that the pandemic emergency is winding down, Sununu said he would end weekly Covid press briefings after next week.
This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.