CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Volunteer call center operators were being trained Thursday to take tens of thousands of calls from New Hampshire residents eager to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, while a registration website stood ready to handle 100,000 visitors at once.
Registration will open at 8 a.m. Friday for the approximately 325,000 people in phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan. That includes anyone age 65 or older, people with at least two qualifying medical conditions, corrections workers, and staff and residents of residential facilities for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The easiest way to register will be via the vaccine.nh.gov website. Those who can’t schedule an appointment online can call the state’s 2-1-1 hotline. More than 300 state employees have volunteered to staff the phones, but wait times of an hour or more are possible, Gov. Chris Sununu said.
“We need people to be patient. We’ll be expecting unprecedented call volume … but rest assured, every call will be answered by a live person,” he said. “The system is set up, and it’s going to work.”
The first appointments will be scheduled for Tuesday. What happens after that remains in flux, depending on how much vaccine the state receives every week and how many people want to sign up. The state has been getting about 17,000 doses per week, and at that rate, vaccinating the entire phase 1B group would take until late May. The state’s current plan calls for starting the next phase in March, however, and state officials expect shipments of vaccine to increase soon.
“One of the questions we still don’t know is, what will the uptake of phase 1B be?” Sununu said. “So we’re not going to make any changes for a couple of weeks until we see what the requests are and the demands on the system. If folks are booking past the April timeframe for their first shot, we’ll make that adjustment.”
Teachers are in phase 2, and the head of the state’s largest teachers union has sharply criticized Sununu for not including them earlier. Sununu defended the state’s plan Thursday, saying it prioritizes those who are at most at risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
“That’s the key to getting fatalities down, that’s the key to making sure our health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed. We may still have very high numbers of COVID for a long time. But if the hospitalization and mortality rate is down, that’s the goal, and that’s how we start opening things up,” he said. “My frustration is around the comment I keep hearing that teachers have to be vaccinated for schools to open. That is 100% false.”
More than 60,000 people have tested positive for the virus, including 925 cases announced Thursday that included numbers from several previous days. Twelve new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 962. Among the 65 deaths in the last week, just over half were residents of long-term care facilities. For much of the pandemic, more than 80% of the deaths have been nursing homes residents, so the decrease may be an early indication that the vaccine rollout is helping, said Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks, going from 799 new cases per day on Jan. 6 to 759 new cases per day on Wednesday.
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