CONCORD, NH — State health officials announced six more deaths and two outbreaks at long-term care facilities in New Hampshire.
At a news conference Wednesday, Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said two other non-care center deaths were also being reported bringing the number of fatalities in the state to 190.
Shibinette said the new outbreaks were at Community Bridges of Belmont, a facility for the developmentally disabled, where two residents and four staffers were infected, as well as Greenbriar Healthcare in Nashua, an assisted living facility, where 10 residents are also positive with the new coronavirus. She also announced 149 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, with more than a third of the cases, 51, coming from the Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center in Manchester after a testing event at the facility. Many of the employees at the center were asymptomatic, Shibinette said.
Shibinette said expanded testing in the state — around 2,000 polymerase chain reaction tests and 600 antibody tests per day — were "really making a huge difference" in finding more cases of the new coronavirus as well as finding thousands of people who were not infected. So far, more than 56,000 tests have been conducted with 3,868 testing positive.
Gov. Chris Sununu announced two new fixed locations, in Londonderry and Keene, as part of the state's strategy of testing everyone with symptoms, in a high-risk group, over the age of 60 who want a test, and health care workers.
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"We really want to open it up, as much as possible," Sununu said.
Starting Tuesday, the state will be adding household members of high-risk group categories as well as child care center employees to the list, Shibinette said.
The state's data concerning long-term care infections and nursing home deaths, when compared to other states, also put New Hampshire low on the list when compared to other states, she said. Only 28 percent of nursing homes in the state have infection cases whereas Massachusetts had 50 percent. The death rate was also at 1 percent — lower than most New England states and New York, as well.
Around 5,000 Main Street Relief Fund applications have been submitted to the state. Sununu said there were nine days left for businesses to fill out a pre-application. The program, he said, was not designed to make businesses whole, but the grants would help.
Sununu also thanked all the first responders during EMS Week, thanked the Executive Council for unanimously approving the June warrant approving spending of millions of dollars of CARES Act funds, and said more reopening announcements were expected Friday.
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Getting Ready For Memorial Day
During questions and answers, the governor was asked about beaches and specifically whether all beaches in the state were closed. Sununu said the only closed beaches were the Seacoast's ocean beaches, except for Seabrook, which is a town beach, although the state was working with the community to provide "some consistency there," since all other ocean beaches were closed. Beaches at state parks, lakes, and ponds, were open, at a limited capacity, not for congregating, but walking or visiting, Sununu said. Those beaches, he said, were controlled by communities, and decisions were being made at that level.
When asked about policing the ocean beaches to ensure compliance, Sununu said, "We don't want to get into a position of hard enforcement … all the folks, up and down the Seacoast, deserve a lot of credit, for having the right tone, when working with individuals. I don't think anyone really wants to go out and ruin it … we don't want to come down with a heavy hammer." The governor also pleaded twice for Granite Staters to "be patient" with the beach reopening issue, especially since very warm temperatures were on the horizon, and let officials eye what happens in Massachusetts, which plans on opening beaches May 25, for walking and visiting.
"Just give us a little more time," he said. "We were asked to shoot for June 1 and we're going to try to meet that, for sure … we have some issues (like traffic and parking, businesses and restaurants) to work out. We are working very diligently. We know it's going to be warm … I get it … we are asking folks to have a little bit of discipline, don't jump in the water just yet. If we can wait a little longer, and get it right, it allows us to get it right … it is only May."
When asked about personal protection equipment, Shibinette said there were some issues with accessing N95 masks. There were KN95 masks available but some health officials do not think they were as good as other masks. The state has orders for them, but two previous orders were canceled. Officials are continuing to try and access them, she said.
When asked about the Diocese of Manchester moving forward with the distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful in the church, as announced by Rev. Peter Libasci, the Bishop of Manchester, as well as the task force recommendations, Sununu said state Sen. Bob Guida was working very hard with houses of worship and he hoped to have recommendations soon. Some states have opened houses of worship sooner rather than later but the governor said he was still concerned about super-cluster events occurring at churches, weddings, and receptions.
"You're talking about lives," he said. "This is a severe epidemic."
When asked about contact tracing successes, Sununu thought the "robust testing," and not abandoning efforts to investigate every case, assisted in limiting the pandemic's spread, especially when compared to other states, which stopped tracing altogether. It allowed the state to segregate positive cases sooner, too, he said.
"It does take a lot of manpower," the governor said. "But it's all doable and it's been a very valuable tool."
Sununu was asked to clarify masks or cloth coverings, usage in businesses, and the differences between mandates and recommendations, as well as self-isolation requests and mandates. Sununu said masks were recommended but were not mandatory for businesses and a business could refuse service to a customer who did not wear a mask if the business chose to request them. Communities can also approve mandated usage of masks. The state currently has a 10-person gathering restriction and that was a mandate, Sununu said. Shibinette said 99 percent of patients in the state who were asked to self-quarantine complied — but there were some who did not, even though they put communities at risk. A handful of times, she had to issue orders of isolation, which could have been appealed up to a court level but, fortunately, "we have not needed to go there," Shibinette added.
Shibinette was asked about nursing home exposure, testing, and assistants for facilities with outbreaks. She said they were working with three vendors to create a team of nursing and nursing assistants of about 8 to 10 people that can assist short-staffed, long-term care facilities that may encounter an outbreak to help stabilize staffing. She said it would be put together in the coming weeks. Testing in long-term care facilities was scheduled to be completed by end of this week or early next week, she added, with thousands of test swabs being sent out. The department is spreading out the dates of collection from the facilities.
The state's official unemployment rate is more than 16 percent and Sununu was asked to comment about whether or not it was worth the sacrifice of all of those workers to be in lockdown for a very limited numbers of deaths in the state due to the new coronavirus — with all but a handful isolated to long-term care facilities. The governor said it was and called the number "staggering," especially considering the state's employment picture in January and February — when the state had its highest labor participation rates ever.
"We were flying," he said. "Our economy was strong."
Unfortunately though, it is not going to be going back to normal any time soon, Sununu said, although he hoped for better economic numbers later in the year.
The governor was asked if he looked at the closure of the Child and Family Development Center at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, a lab school for early childhood educators where many of the parents who send their children to the program had requested that it be kept open — and were now asking for either money from the CARES Act funds that is earmarked for community colleges or health or education departments, about $280,000, to be used to reopen the center for at least a year. Sununu called the center "a great program" but since parents pulled their kids out of the program, it "was not economically viable … but we'd love to get them back." The governor had spoken to officials with the community college system and there was a future plan — possibly bringing in an outside provider or changing the learning center model. He didn't comment on the use of CARES Act funds or reopening the program, but called early childhood education "very important," and said there was "a decent plan in place to get it up and running" again.
Learn More About The Spread Of COVID-19
The COVID-19 virus is spread through respiratory droplets, usually through coughing and sneezing, and exposure to others who are sick or might be showing symptoms.
Health officials emphasize residents should follow these recommendations:
- Avoid any domestic and international travel, especially on public transportation such as buses, trains, and airplanes.
- Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet from other people, including distancing while in waiting areas or lines.
- Anybody who is told to self-quarantine and stay at home due to exposure to a person with confirmed or suspect COVID-19 needs to stay home and not go out into public places.
- If you are 60 years or older or have chronic medical conditions, you need to stay home and not go out.
- Avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.
- Employers need to move to telework as much as possible.
- There is increasing evidence that this virus can survive for hours or possibly even a few days on surfaces, so people should clean frequently touched surfaces, including door handles, grocery carts and grocery basket handles, etc.
Take the same precautions as you would if you were sick:
- Stay home and avoid public places when sick (i.e., social distancing).
- Cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
- Guidance to schools can be found can be found here.
- Instructions for returning travelers to self-observe for symptoms of COVID-19 are available are available here.
- For more information on COVID-19 in NH, visit its site here.
- For the latest information from the CDC, visit its site here.
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