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Transcript: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on "Face the Nation," December 12, 2021

New Hampshire governor: State prepared for winter COVID-19 surge
New Hampshire governor says state is prepared for winter COVID-19 surge 08:00

The following is a transcript of an interview with New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu that aired Sunday, December 12, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, we turn now to New Hampshire, where COVID cases are on the rise as temperatures drop. Governor Chris Sununu joins us from Newfields. Good morning to you, Governor.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU: Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it is stunning to see hospitalizations in your state. They've jumped about 25% over the last two weeks. I know you've asked for help from the National Guard and help from FEMA. Why do you think you're seeing such a dramatic spike?

GOV. SUNUNU: It's winter. It really is, and, you know, we've been planning for this winter surge since July. I had teams and we saw numbers increasing all across the southern part of the country. We had teams and CEOs of hospitals visiting other states to see how they were managing kind of that summer Delta surge so we could prepare. So unfortunately, we were right and that the surge is upon us. And what you see all across New England right now, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont are rising cases– the Upper Midwest. And now you're seeing it more in the mid-Atlantic states, unfortunately, like New Jersey and New York. So ultimately, as winter comes, the seasonality, if you will, of this virus is really taking precedent. But we're prepared and we're trying a lot of different innovative things to flex the bed- bed space and whatnot within the hospital system. It's really important that the health care system is preserved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said 20% of the hospitalized are vaccinated. Are they also boosted?

GOV. SUNUNU: Twenty percent are vaccinated, I can't tell you if that 20% in the hospital was boosted, I can tell you very likely not. I mean, the booster really minimizes to the point of fractions of a percent of a chance in terms of having a severity. The booster is so, so important. And it's why we're pushing out so strong. When the booster was first made available in the first couple of weeks, people really weren't taking it. Now they're seeing the hospitalizations rise. You're seeing, unfortunately, their friends, neighbors and co-workers come down with this very aggressive Delta variant. They're taking it a little more seriously, and we have a lot more folks going after the booster, which is hugely important in terms of not just preventing COVID, but most importantly, preventing the most severe aspects of COVID.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You got boosted yesterday. I understand. Why did you wait so long?

GOV. SUNUNU: Well, we did a booster blitz yesterday, which was great, so frankly, it was- it was out of promotion. More than anything, we put about 12,000 needles in arms across the state, all in one day in dozens of locations across the state. We'll do it again. You can only do those every once in a while, because you don't want to draw off of the hospital system and the nurses and the frontline workers that have to give that. So, every few weeks, we're going to do these booster blitzes. And so, if anything, it was more out of the promotion of it. But it was a great day, huge- hugely successful, and we're going to do it again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Dr. Scott Gottlieb just before you say, like one of the lightest lift health precautions you could possibly do is put in place a mask mandate. Why are you choosing not to do so?

GOV. SUNUNU: Well, it's not necessarily a light lift. Look, masks are incredibly important, there's no doubt about it. Schools can do it, local- localities can do it if they want to. But when you look at all these different mandates that you can- can or cannot put in place is always a downside as well. And we talk about the Swiss cheese effect, right? Social distancing, mask, far and away the most important thing is get vaccinated, get your boosters quick access to testing. These are all pieces of the puzzle to reduce the transmission of the virus, so it's just not a matter of whether we do it or not. And remember, you know, a lot of these cases are received over the holidays when you're spending time with family or- or you're at the workplace. And again, a mask isn't necessarily going to get to stop the family spread that we see a lot here. So, it's not that it's not important. But when you do a mandate through a state of emergency that- that just takes on a whole different level. One of the most important things, I think, is that home testing, we're really aggressive. We're the first state in the country to allow home testing. Anyone in the- in the state can click a button, and in about three days we put a million tests in people's homes. And I know that a bit contradicts what the White House is pushing.--


GOV. SUNUNU: But I can tell you if folks have access to a test in their home and they can find out if they are positive or negative, it really- it takes just that one or two days that you're saving from getting your results back; it can drastically reduce the transmission. So, we're going to keep doing programs like that and making sure that we've been this curve down over the winter surge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You talked about mask mandates not necessarily being a light lift in your state. You've had anti-vaccine protesters. I know you last year canceled your public ceremony for your own inauguration because of armed protesters who objected to some of your health restrictions. Is that kind of physical backlash, that kind of security risk, why you are not putting in place a mask mandate?

GOV. SUNUNU: Oh no, no, no, no, no, not at all.--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's not a factor? 

GOV. SUNUNU: No, no. It's not a factor at all. That's a very small contingency. So, at the end of the day, you know, you'd have to do a state- a full state of emergency. And I remember when I- if I do a mask mandate as a governor, remember, almost no state has mask mandates right now. But as a governor, if you were to do that, every district, every county, whether you have high transmission levels, whether you're highly vaccinated or not, it covers everybody. And what you're really telling folks is thank you for making the sacrifice and getting the vaccine, getting the boosters, doing the right thing and you're still in the penalty box.--


GOV. SUNUNU: And the fact of the matter is COVID isn't going away anytime soon.--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's not a penalty box. I mean, for people with unvaccinated family members, small children, immunocompromised. It's just putting on a mask.

GOV. SUNUNU: Sure, so- so yes, so let's- if I were to put a mask mandate in now, when do I undo it? COVID isn't going away for the next couple of years. We're going to have Omicron; we are going to have new variants. The fact of the matter is you start putting restrictions in place today.--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How about the winter? restrictions in place today? 

GOV. SUNUNU: You mean at the end of the winter?--


GOV. SUNUNU: And then it comes back again and then the state emergency is on and then it's off.--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you said winter was the biggest factor driving things, so keep a mask on for winter, take it off in the warm weather.

GOV. SUNUNU: Oh, and we strongly encourage folks to wear masks, especially when they're in close proximity, they're indoors, if schools want to do it, absolutely. And I think we're having a lot of success, but it's- that is just one small piece of the equation here. It's about vaccines, it's about boosters. It's about doing all the other things that you have to do to put into place to be successful. And if you look at states- look, we're one of the most vaccinated states in the country. So is Vermont, right? States that have had mask orders, it's not an end all, be all. You have to put all of these pieces into the pie and understand that communities are different. Schools are different. How we treat our holiday gatherings might be different. And at the end of the day, it's about personal responsibility. Getting that vaccine, getting that booster, being smart about it, getting yourself tested early. All of these are the most important pieces of the puzzle to bending the curve and making sure we push back on COVID.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. On that question of personal responsibility, you are very clearly encouraging people to go get a vaccine to go get a booster. But your state is also suing the Biden administration over the vaccine or test mandate for businesses and for health workers. Isn't that a mixed message? Aren't you concerned some of your constituents might misunderstand what you're communicating?

GOV. SUNUNU: No. No, not at all. It's very clear if a business or something or someone wants to put a mandate in place, that's one thing. But when the government starts mandating health choices for individuals, that doesn't that- that is a whole different ball game right there. And so whether it's the federal government or the state government, you shouldn't have mandates that impose vaccines. You shouldn't have mandates that don't allow vaccines. You've got to let businesses and individuals make that choice for themselves. And in New Hampshire, where the live, free or die state, where the number one state for freedom. And we've also been able to balance the safety of COVID through all of these different surges, I think better than- than most. We're at the frontlines of the COVID surge right now, to be sure, but that's because we're at the front lines of winter. And unfortunately, we're going to see it through the rest of the country as well. And we want to kind of lead by example, put some of these innovative pieces in place, like home testing or whatever it might be, and hopefully have folks' kind of follow along and- and understand that we're in this for the long haul. This isn't just beating it back for the next 60 days. We're going to be dealing with COVID, probably for the next couple of years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, good luck to you with the surge. And thank you for your time today.

GOV. SUNUNU: You- you bet. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.

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