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Sen. Shaheen discusses COVID-19 surge

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) was in Berlin last Wednesday to speak with local healthcare providers and representatives from area schools about the COVID-19 surge in the North Country and what needs to be done to help to end the pandemic.

Shaheen spoke at Coos County Family Health

Services Willow Street location just hours after the Republican members of the New Hampshire Executive Council reversed their previous vote and approved $22.5 million in Centers for Disease Control grant funds to help combat COVID-19.

During her press conference, Shaheen said that as of Wednesday 756,000 Americans and 1,613 New Hampshire residents have been lost to COVID-19. On Tuesday, the state announced 14 deaths, with two of those being in Coos County, she said.

Shaheen said the state is experiencing the highest hospitalization rate due to the virus since last winter with only three ICU beds available statewide as of Wednesday.

She said that since the executive council’s original decision to reject $27 million in CDC funding the state has seen a surge in cases. She noted that delays in providing necessary vaccines and health-care resources was one of the critical consequences that public health experts foresaw resulting from the failure of the executive council to accept the COVID-19 funds.

She said that while she was please the executive council voted to receive over $22 million they should have done so when it was first available.

“It is time to end the politics and end the games,” she said.

Coos County Family Health Chief Executive Officer Ken Gordon said that over the last 14 days there have been 13 deaths in Coos County as a result of COVID. He said that when he and other healthcare officials learned of the executive council’s original rejection of the $27 million they were stunned. He said that healthcare facilities are fighting as hard as they can to resolve the pandemic and to have funds to help in that fight rejected was a surprise to those in the profession.

He said he was please that the executive council reversed course noting that the additional funds will allow entities like Coos Family Health to maintain their efforts to fight the virus.

Androscoggin Valley Hospital Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Brian O’Hearn said that the hospital’s current spike began in mid-September. He said the hospital experienced its first substantial wave on Oct. 1 and by Oct. 8 the hospital had nine COVID-positive patients with three in the ICU. By Oct. 10, those three patients were on ventilators. O’Hearn also said that on Oct. 10 52 percent of the hospital’s census was COVID-positive.

“A hospital should never have half of its census related to one illness,” he said.

O’Hearn noted that the emotional impact on staff from the virus has been substantial. He called the pandemic a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and noted that the illness is causing devastation to families in the North Country.

SAU 20 Superintendent David Backler also spoke during the press conference and said that when schools were closed in the spring of 2020 educators saw two problems, namely equity in student outcomes and the social and emotional loss to students of not having in person instruction. He said the results of spring 2020 made it obvious to educators that they had to do whatever they could to safely provide in-person instruction to students.

Backler said that while the 2020-2021 school year was difficult, the start of the 2021-2022 school year presented additional challenges as districts could see the light at the end of the tunnel with the availability of vaccines, only to see that end goal taken away. He said the start of the school year was worse in many ways due to the spread of the vaccine at the beginning of the school year.

All of those who spoke at the event focused on the importance of vaccinations being the key to ending the pandemic. In response to a question about how to reach those who are against the vaccine or who are vaccine hesitant, Gordon said that Coos County Family Health tries to work with those who might be on the fence on a one-on-one basis to provide information to allow people the opportunity to make the best medical decision for themselves.

Shaheen then noted that when the executive council originally rejected the $27 in COVID funds they repurposed a little over $4 million in American Rescue Plan Funds that could have been used for other purposes to use for COVID-19. She then added that in approving over $22 million the executive council was still using funds that could have been used for other sources instead of accepting all of the money designated specifically for COVID-19 vaccines. She called the actions of the council disappointing.