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Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at his weekly press conference on Thursday about his decision to reinstate the requirement that people receiving unemployment must be actively be looking for work. (SCREEN SHOT)

By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — As of May 23, everyone who is receiving state unemployment benefits will be required to show they are looking for work to continue to get those benefits, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday at his regular news conference.

With unemployment in the state at about 3 percent, Sununu said the state’s economy is “roaring back,” but he is concerned about there being enough workers to fill all the jobs that are open.

“If anything we are facing a worker shortage,” Sununu said.

Before the pandemic, the state required people who were receiving unemployment to actively be looking for work, he said. But with thousands of jobs going unfilled, “we will be reintroducing our work search requirement.”

The state has recently hosted 15 virtual job fairs by the state Department of Employment Security. Sununu noted last week on the Seacoast there was a virtual job fair with 100 employers offering over 3,000 jobs and only about 140 people showed up looking for work.

He said he is particularly concerned about filling jobs in the state’s tourism industry and getting enough workers for restaurants and hotels to operate this summer.

Sununu said he does not know any sector of the state’s economy that is not looking for new workers. He said he was making the announcement early to give folks time to plan and prepare for the work search requirement.

Sununu said all NH Works job centers in the state will be fully open by May 10 to allow for one-on-one interactions to meet the needs of job seekers. The state will host a virtual job fair on May 6 for veterans and one on May 11 with Pinkerton Academy focused on new graduates and younger workers. Another is planned for May 13 specific to contractors.

Anyone looking for details on the changes in requirements can go to unemploymentbenefits@nh.gov.

COVID-19 Update

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state’s epidemiologist, said as of Thursday, New Hampshire reported 515 new cases of COVID-19 with over 100 of those related to an outbreak at the federal prison in Berlin. There are currently 3,283 active cases of the coronavirus in the state but the PCR positivity rate is going down and is at 4.5 percent, a decline from a week or two ago, he said.

Hospitals are caring for 112 COVID-19 patients now, down from 133 the day before.

Chan said the state recorded one new death Thursday for a total loss of life at 1,274 since the pandemic began over a year ago.

He said the number of COVID-19 cases is starting to come down and averaging over 300 a day, but the level of community spread continues to be high.

“So getting the vaccine is one of the most important things people can do to reduce the spread,” along with wearing masks in public, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds, Chan said.

Vaccine Update

Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases and Control at the Department of Health and Human Services, said 56 percent of eligible residents have now had at least one shot of vaccine.

She said a total of 984,000 have had a single shot, including 637,000 with the first dose, and 387,000 or 28 percent have been fully vaccinated.

Daly said a super site event is planned for people to get their second Pfizer shot on Saturday at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.

They received their first shot in March. Originally, the state had planned it as a two-day event but many went on to the VINI website and had their second shots moved up, so only one day is required for the vaccines.

All have been notified of the change and if not, people can go to the website at vaccines.nh.gov or call 2-1-1.

The state has among the nation’s highest rates of vaccination, Sununu said. He noted there will be more advertisements and billboards to encourage people to get the vaccine.

Some of the rural counties have lower percentage rates of those getting the vaccine, but Sununu said it not being looked at on a county basis.

The state opened the chance to get vaccines for out-of-state residents as of Monday and Sununu said fewer out-of-state residents have so far signed up than he expected. He expected about 50,000. He said there are no supply issues for residents and still plenty of open appointments.

Equity clinics, which are focused on distributing 10 percent of all state doses to marginalized communities including the poor and vulnerable, are expected to take longer. So far 280 clinics have been held and plan to vaccinate 26,000. It is less than she had expected, Daly said, but it might take more time because these are harder populations to reach. It does not require a change of strategy, she said. If unused, the vaccine will be used in other settings, but it still is being first offered to those equity clinics.

J & J Vaccine

Sununu said there is hope that the vaccine will return but the state should not expect a large influx in the next few weeks if it is allowed to be distributed by the CDC. He said the hope is that by May they will resume state commitments for the single-dose vaccine.

Universal Reopening

The Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force will meet Friday and the governor said it will be looking to consolidate 42 individual industry guidelines into a single, universal document to help reopen much of the state’s economy by May 7 as he outlined last week.

Hopefully, Sununu said, the task force will make recommendations that he and health officials can finalize and release to the public next week.

Chan on Mask Mandate

Sununu made the announcement that he was letting the statewide mask mandate expire last week but the state’s epidemiologist was not present. Chan said he was away on vacation with his family and his absence was not meant to be reflective of that announcement.

Chan said he and the governor continue to believe that masks are effective “and so regardless of whether there is a mask mandate or not we will recommend they be used in public locations.”

He said one of the challenges during this pandemic is how to get people to change their behaviors.

“A mask mandate is one way to get them to change their behaviors,” but public health operates best in an encouraging rather than a punitive way to seek behavioral change.

“So the mandate has gone away, has expired but the recommendations remain,” to wear the mask in public, Chan said.

He was also asked about the COVID-19 variants and how exposure might change with the warming weather.

Chan said the seasonality of the virus and its variants remains unclear. But there is data, he said, that suggested that the second or third peak going on right now is likely contributed to by the emergence of the variants.

“Because they are more easily spread person to person, they are more difficult to control,” he said. There might be another spike, Chan said, but with adherence to social distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding crowds, together with vaccines, it will work against that.

Holiday Travel

Next week is spring school vacation week for most of the state. Every time people travel, the numbers bump up, Sununu noted. He said airlines have done a good job managing crowds and keeping people socially distant and they require masks.

Police Reform

Sununu was asked about reactions in the state to this week’s conviction of a former police officer in Minneapolis charged with killing George Floyd last May.

Sununu said there is a lot of opportunity for positive reform in our communities and there is some evidence of implicit bias.

A commission he formed in response to Floyd’s murder came up with more than 40 specific recommendations to improve police training, transparency, and accountability, and many of them are being implemented or being handled in the legislature, he said.

Sununu said they aim to enhance community policing, training, and communication.

“There is always an opportunity to be better,” Sununu said.

VP Visit

Vice President Kamala Harris will be visiting New Hampshire Friday. Sununu said he plans to greet her. He said it will be an honor and as far as a message, he was not sure other than the most important one which is “Welcome to New Hampshire.”

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