As COVID numbers peak, mandates become hot topic

  • The grassy lawn of the state house to hear House Speaker Sherman Packard speak about the Biden administration's new vaccine mandate, which will apply to millions of Americans employed by mid-sized businesses on Tuesday, September 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/19/2021 6:59:19 PM

As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizes hurdle beyond springtime highs, mandates are reemerging as a strategy to control the virus.

For the last couple of weeks, new cases of COVID-19 have surged, hospitals have paused elective procedures to make room for coronavirus patients, and outbreaks at nursing homes have started up again, making the "normal" summer coming to a crashing end.

Thanks to Delta, a variant about twice as contagious as previously predominant strains, the restrictions and mandates Granite Staters shed at the beginning of the summer might come back.

The state is averaging about 560 new cases every day as death rates and hospitalizations continue to climb. At a press conference Wednesday, Sununu said he expects this fall’s surge to be grim.

“It’ll be as bad or worse than last year,” he said.

In light of rising cases across the country, President Joe Biden announced that all private businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Though it’s not clear exactly how many Granite Staters will be impacted by the mandate, more than 200,000 residents work at companies with more than 100 employees, according to data from the N.H. Department of Labor.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said. “And your refusal has cost all of us.”

In the Live Free or Die state mandates are controversial.

At a press conference-turned-rally on Tuesday, vaccine protestors held up signs that read “No medical mandates!” and “We will not consent. We will not comply.”

Sununu and several Republican legislators have sharply resisted the mandate, arguing it is government overreach that will create mistrust. New Hampshire will likely join other states in legally challenging the mandate.

“I am working directly with my fellow Governors to see how best we can push back against this federal overreach,” a statement from Sununu read. “I am as pro-vaccine as it gets, but I do not support this mandate from Washington as it is not the answer.”

Politicians have also brought up the possibility that vaccine mandates will drive away workers during the current statewide staffing crisis.

This concern is not unfounded – nursing homes, which were given a vaccine ultimatum by the federal government in mid-August, have lost staff over vaccine requirements.

Brendan Williams, the president of the N.H. Health Care Association, said members have already reported nursing home staff leaving for small businesses to avoid the 100-employee mandate.

Cities and towns in New England are also revisiting the idea of mask mandates as cases continue to climb. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance stipulates that vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks in areas of “substantial or high” levels of community transmission. As of Friday, every county in New Hampshire fell into the highest level of transmission.

The city of Lebanon announced in early September that their mask ordinance would go back into effect. Several other cities in Massachusetts have reinstated their face covering rules, including West Springfield.

“While I understand that there are many viewpoints on this, as a physician, I do feel that the science on this is fairly clear,” board member Dr. Nathan Somers said at the West Springfield virtual meeting. “Vaccines, social distancing, contact tracing, and masking are effective at slowing the progress and the spread of this virus.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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