Gov. Chris Sununu

Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at his news conference on COVID-19 on Tuesday. (SCREEN SHOT)

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu announced an executive order Tuesday to help hospitals increase capacity, but he made it clear that even with the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began 20 months ago, he is not considering a mask mandate.

“It’s a hospital capacity emergency,” Sununu said at Tuesday’s press conference.

The executive order will help hospitals be able to add beds on their campus in non-traditional spaces and in rehabilitation centers, and also help with licensing issues.

“There’s no doubt we are seeing a record number of cases, record levels of hospitalization. The winter surge that we’ve predicted is rearing its ugly head and we are definitely in the throes of it,” Sununu said.

The most important thing to do at this point is get vaccinated, Sununu said.

“We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to get their booster shot,” Sununu said, announcing the statewide Booster Blitz Initiative that will take place Dec. 11.

On that day, 20 sites will be set up across the state so people can get their booster shots in time for the holidays. More information will be released on the state’s website.

The executive order is “not a new state of emergency,” Sununu said. The governor is simply directing the Department of Health and Human Services to assist hospitals in addressing capacity challenges, giving them flexibility, he said.

House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) was quick to criticize Sununu after the press conference.

“Plain and simple, Gov. Sununu is failing our vaccination effort in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has the lowest vaccination rate in New England and currently has the second highest per capita COVID cases in the United States, behind Michigan,” Cushing said in a news release.

Cushing said while additional hospital beds are critical right now, what Sununu also needs “is a plan to combat the misinformation being peddled by his own party, culminating in the angry mob that gathered in the Legislative Office Building just last Friday.”

“Gov. Sununu is clearly not doing enough to protect Granite Staters, and our entire health-care system is paying the price,” Cushing said.

COVID update

At the news conference, State Epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan announced 561 COVID-19 new cases Tuesday and said the state is averaging almost 1,000 new infections per day.

There are currently 7,627 active cases in New Hampshire and four new deaths with 350 people in the hospital Tuesday. The test positivity rate is high at 9.5 percent, Chan said.

To date, COVID-19 has caused 1,678 deaths in New Hampshire, he said.

Chan said everyone age 5 and older should get vaccinated. And everyone 18 years old or older is eligible for a booster shot.

“We’re currently experiencing the highest level of COVID-19 in our communities that we’ve seen at any point during the pandemic,” Chan said.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced closing six outbreaks at long-term care facilities and opening nine new outbreaks.

Sununu said there may be a “fairly bumpy road” ahead during the winter surge.

He was asked about other mitigation measures, especially mask mandates that have been a political hot potato.

“We’re not looking at a mask mandate,” Sununu said. Face masks are not the “be all, end all,” Sununu said.

Masks at State House asked Sununu why he doesn’t follow the CDC recommendation to wear a mask in public buildings where community transmission is substantial or high, such as the case in New Hampshire, especially when greeting children at the State House when he isn’t wearing a face mask.

Sununu said a lot of the CDC recommendations have convoluted messaging. He said he is fully vaccinated, but didn’t directly answer why he refuses to wear a mask shaking hands with the students.

The students all wear face masks during the tours but few adults in the State House wear face masks. Masks are optional at the State House. Sununu criticized the question as “convoluted.”

Breakthrough cases

Shibinette said the state doesn’t have accurate numbers on the number of fully vaccinated people who are getting COVID-19 because they haven’t been able to aggregate the state data with pharmacy data.

She did say that 70 percent of the people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated and 30 percent have been vaccinated.

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