Biden cites Sununu during COVID-19 briefing with govs

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Dec. 27—WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden gave New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu a shoutout Monday during a virtual briefing on COVID-19 with a bipartisan group of governors.

Biden mentioned Sununu after Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, chairman of the National Governors Association, urged the president to keep the focus on "state solutions" rather than top-down driven, federal government answers to this pandemic.

"As you look towards federal solutions that will help alleviate the challenge, make sure we don't let federal solutions stand in the way of state solutions," Hutchinson said.

As an example, Hutchinson said Biden's announcement last week the administration would be sending out 500 million rapid tests across the country over the next month would make it difficult for the leaders of the hardest-hit states to obtain their own stockpiles of more tests for the virus.

"There is no federal solution, this gets solved at the state level. I am looking at Gov. Sununu who is up on the board. He talks about that a lot," Biden responded.

The president's comments came as New Hampshire public health officials reported a record 30 deaths linked to the virus in the state over the long holiday weekend.

Officials confirmed all of the fatalities came since the state's most recent report last Thursday.

Among this group, 26 were older than 60 while two-thirds were residents of the state's most populous counties, 12 from Rockingham County and eight from Hillsborough County; 16 were females and 14 were males.

During the COVID-19 surge last winter, as many as 21 deaths were reported in a single day.

On Monday, there were 397 hospitalized with the virus, up by 24 the number that had been reported last Thursday.

Until Monday, the state had experienced a slight reduction in the number of those hospitalized over the previous 10 days.

The White House gave the media access to Biden's opening remarks, and the welcome from the National Governors Association leader, but the question and answer session which followed with the governors was private.

"My message to the governors is simple; if you need something, say something and we are going to have your back," Biden said.

NH has asked for another federal response team

After that session, Sununu praised the federal response of late, urging Biden to hold more of these in-person briefings in the future.

"Today's call with the president was encouraging as he recognized the importance of state solutions in fighting this pandemic, including praise for state-driven at-home testing programs. Other good developments out of today's call included confirmation that omicron appears to be less severe, reducing the risk of hospitalizations and deaths, and the fact that the current boosters appear to show strong protection against the omicron variant," Sununu said.

Sununu also had praised the Biden administration moves to advocate in-person school learning and to relax its guidelines when it came to isolating asymptomatic students who came in contact with a case of COVID-19.

"The president also expressed an openness to revising quarantine timelines, an important step in keeping our economy, supply chains, and schools open and running," Sununu said.

"Calls directly with the president are always very helpful and I hope the White House will consider more opportunities in the future," he said.

Arnie Arnesen, a progressive radio talk-show host and former Democratic nominee for governor in New Hampshire, said Sununu's failure to embrace vaccine mandates and other Biden responses to this pandemic made the state's citizens less safe and contributed to this surge in hospitalizations.

"Is our success against COVID real or Memorex? Unlike Biden, Sununu is focused on the idea of individual choice and personal responsibility when it comes to vaccination, masking and other public health measures. In other words, to hell with the health and safety of my community," said Arnesen, responding to Sununu on social media.

Sununu has asked the Biden administration to send a third federal team of health care professionals, this latest one to help administer monoclonal antibodies. The treatment has been found to be successful in reducing the need for hospitalization for adults who become sick with the virus.

Earlier in December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent New Hampshire a team of specialists who worked for three weeks at Elliot Hospital in Manchester.

Last week, FEMA sent to New Hampshire a group of 30 paramedics who were deployed to the state's hospitals with the most overwhelmed emergency rooms.

Last week, Sununu said he realized, while New Hampshire hit a pandemic record for hospitalizations a few weeks ago, there were other states with much higher rates of hospitalizations than here.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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