Maine, NH Activate National Guard to Assist With COVID Surge: What to Know

Coronavirus cases are rising in both northern New England states, and that's expected to continue

Sgt. Katrina Byrne of the Kentucky National Guard
Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The governors of Maine and New Hampshire announced Wednesday that they are activating the National Guard to help expand capacity at hospitals amid a serious winter COVID-19 surge.

New Hampshire also announced that it is bringing in Federal Emergency Management Agency teams as early as this week to assist at hospitals.

Here's what we know about what the two states are doing:


Maine’s governor activated as many as 75 members of the Maine National Guard on Wednesday to help expand capacity at health care facilities.

The state is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 that has challenged its hospitals. A record of 379 people were hospitalized Wednesday with the virus.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said the guard members will be used in non-clinical support roles. That will include supporting nursing facilities and helping to administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from the virus and keep patients out of critical care, Mills said.

Mills and other state officials said those steps will free up hospital beds. The announcement came as the state’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center, said it has postponed about 50% of surgeries because of the burden of COVID-19 on the facility.

Maine has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, but rates lag in many rural parts of the state. Mills called on unvaccinated people to get their shots, and said that because the National Guard is “stepping up, so, too, must Maine people” as cases of the virus rise.

“I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ensure care for all those who need it,” Mills said.

More than 60% of the COVID-19 patients in hospitals are unvaccinated, and the rate is as high as 80% at some facilities, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

About 70% of Maine’s population is fully vaccinated. The percentage is less than 60% in some rural counties, however. The state has been the site of more than 1,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There have also been more than 125,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the state.

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire National Guard will also deploy 70 members to hospitals to help with needs such as clerical work, food service, and more, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said.

"The winter surge is definitely upon us," the governor said. "We know cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. We want everyone to get vaccinated because that's the way out of this, without a doubt."

Sununu said FEMA will be sending 24 healthcare professionals to Elliot Hospital in Manchester as early as this weekend. A second FEMA team of 30 paramedics will be arriving in the state by the end of next week, and will be assigned to hospitals with the highest COVID burden.

In addition, the governor said he is deploying 70 National Guard members to hospitals in the coming weeks to help with back room and clerical duties, freeing up hospital employees to focus on more critical tasks. They will be deployed to the hospitals with the most severe need.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck effort," Sununu said. "The reality of what's happening inside the hospitals is scary stuff."

Sununu added that the Executive Council approved a $6 million contract Wednesday for strike teams at long-term care facilities, which was one of the greatest needs cited by hospital CEOs as a way to help them open up beds.

And the state is working to expedite licenses for healthcare professionals to help bolster the ranks.

New Hampshire became the state with the highest COVID-19 case rate in the country last week, registering a seven-day positivity rate of 13.4%. That positivity dropped slightly to 12.3% over the past week, state health officials said, but cases remain very high, averaging 1,200 to 1,300 a day.

To encourage vaccination among residents, the state recently opened four new fixed vaccination sites which will offer vaccines and booster shots. The sites, which will be for walk-ins, are located in Berlin, Plymouth, Claremont and Rochester. While three of them are already up and running, the Rochester site will open Thursday.

The state is also holding a one-day "booster blitz" on Saturday where it will administer 12,000 COVID-19 booster shots at locations across the state. Sununu said a second, similar event is being planned for after the holiday season.

About 55% of the population in New Hampshire is fully vaccinated, while 61% of residents have received at least one dose, according to state data.

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