CONWAY — While Memorial Hospital has ended its state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not letting its guard down, with officials preparing a new marketing campaign to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.
President Art Mathisen said at a Zoom ceremony marking the end of emergency operations (see related story in today’s health section), “We’ll just move and pivot as we need to.”
Mathisen said he decided to end the “Code White” emergency status after consulting with medical staff, noting that New Hampshire and New England are “doing quite well compared to some pockets in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Matt Dunn, Memorial’s chief medical officer, said: “We are continuing to have a weekly COVID meeting. We’ve developed a dashboard with gating criteria that we’re monitoring, so we know where we are at the hospital, the community, the state. We’re looking at national and international numbers so we understand and better predict where we are going.”
Dunn stressed the importance of vaccinations in keeping COVID numbers trending down. “I’ll say it now: People should get vaccinated. This will protect them. There are about 3 billion doses of vaccine internationally,” Dunn said.
“We’ve never seen this much of a population in this short of a time frame to have as much data as we do about safety. We know that it protects you. It’s unequivocal,” he said.
Dunn was cautiously optimistic about the community dealing with COVID variants this fall and winter.
Data indicate “there is still robust immune response by Pfizer and Moderna against the Delta variant (which is more infectious and more virulent than the original COVID-19 virus),” Dunn said.
“That doesn’t mean people can’t get COVID. It means that if they are vaccinated and get COVID, it tends to be mild,” he said.
He said he is pleased that the vaccination rate is higher locally (with 60 percent of all Carroll County residents and 67 percent of adults over age 18 vaccinated) and statewide (64 percent).
But the remaining 30-40 percent of unvaccinated people give the virus a large population to continue its spread, he said.
“We know that there are states in the country now that are experiencing pretty high surge numbers, and it’s largely in their unvaccinated population,” Dunn said.
Memorial spokesman Tim Kershner said Wednesday that the hospital is working on a campaign to reach people who have not yet chosen to get vaccinated.
“We know we’ve reached everybody that was looking forward to getting the vaccine,” he said. “Now we’re talking about using creativity to lessen the objections to getting the vaccine.”
Kershner said the hospital has all three available vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“I think we’ve been following the lead of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services,” Kershner said.
Kershner said he is working on a back-to-school campaign advocating for getting schoolchildren vaccinated when they are eligible (currently age 12 and up) as well as getting parents and other adults around them vaccinated.
In addition to continuing offering a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the former Mt. Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center in North Conway (on Wednesdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.), which accepts walk-ins, Dunn said the hospital also has a mobile clinic, which was recently seen at the White Mountain Outdoor, Health and Wellness Fest in Schouler Park, where a handful of people were vaccinated.
Dunn said people who get vaccinated at such walk-up events often say they just haven’t found the time to schedule a vaccine.
The hospital hasn’t had a COVID inpatient that was kept there for treatment for a few weeks, Dunn said, adding that the numbers of people testing positive at the hospital are fairly low.
Mathisen said while the hospital is going back to normal operations, that will continue for now to include a mask requirement, some restrictions in the visitor policy and reducing seats in waiting areas to encourage social distancing.
“I don’t think that’s a surprise to anybody,” he said, adding, “I certainly hope we will go back to the old normal, but I’m not sure if or when.”
To schedule a visit from the mobile clinic at an event or business, contact Memorial Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Will Owen at (603) 356-5461, Ext. 2038.
Memorial currently provides COVID-19 testing only for people who have symptoms of the illness and only by visiting a doctor or other medical provider, either in the emergency room or walk-in clinic, or as part of a visit to primary care.
COVID-19 tests and test kits for asymptomatic testing are available through local pharmacies and health centers. Walmart, Hannaford, Shaws, Walgreens and CVS also offer the COVID-19 vaccine.
For more information about Memorial Hospital, go to memorialhospitalnh.org or call (603) 356-5461.