National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency teams are being deployed to New Hampshire hospitals to help manage a severe winter COVID surge, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Wednesday.
"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."
"I don't think we're going to peak out here for quite a few more weeks," he added. "Hopefully I'm wrong, hopefully we're toward the end of this. Unfortunately, I think these numbers are going to continue to rise as we get deeper into the winter."
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.
So far, no cases of the new omicron variant have been reported in the state but health officials said it is likely only a matter of time.
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.
In April, New Hampshire became the first New England state to lift its mask mandate. Sununu said again Wednesday that there are no plans to bring it back.