Thanks to omicron surge, Sununu warns hospitalizations to remain high

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Jan. 13—CONCORD — The state's high hospitalization rates for COVID-19 will continue for up to another two months now that the more contagious omicron variant has become the dominant strain in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday.

Based on the experience in other countries and some harder-hit states, Sununu said the trajectory of new cases of the virus will continue upward here.

"...I think hospitalizations are going to remain high for at least the next four, five, six, seven weeks as well," Sununu said.

Until a week ago, the level of omicron was less than 50%, officials said. It is now up to over 90%, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.

The state conducts a genome analysis of a random sample of its positive tests for the virus to determine the variant.

Over the past week, the state has averaged more than 2,500 new COVID-19 cases and nine to 10 deaths a day, with hospitalizations back over 400, Chan said.

More than 20,000 residents have active infections, another all-time high.

"We are seeing about double the new infections identified compared to about two weeks ago," Chan said.

While the omicron variant is considered to have milder symptoms, Sununu said hospitalizations will stay high because it's likely so many more people will get this strain.

"It is realistic that two or three times more will get this virus," Sununu said.

Every week, 1% of the state's population is coming down with the virus, he said, with even more positive results from at-home tests going unreported.

"That's a staggering number," Sununu said.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the winter surge also has meant a return to more outbreaks in long-term care settings, despite the high level of vaccination among residents and staff.

She announced 10 new outbreaks in the past week, bringing the total to 37 statewide.

Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks told the Executive Council earlier Wednesday that her department is getting the help of 25 National Guard troops because 35 full-time staffers have come down with COVID-19. The guard members will not be acting as prison guards.

Meanwhile, Sununu said he has asked the federal government to let New Hampshire keep three teams of federal health care professionals who were sent here to administer monoclonal antibody treatments.

The teams' arrival had been delayed because of demand in states with higher infection rates.

The teams arrived at the beginning of the week, just as state officials learned the treatments they would be giving were found to be ineffective with this latest variant.

"There are antivirals that are available for omicron, but they are in extremely limited supply," Sununu said.

The teams were still sent to Elliot Hospital in Manchester, Concord Hospital and the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon.

Sununu said his request is to keep these Federal Emergency Management Agency teams here to assist the state with other activities, such as vaccination sites.

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