CONCORD, NH — New Hampshire public health officials revealed Thursday that nearly one-fifth of the state’s population infected with the new coronavirus were either residents or employees of long-term care or educational facilities in the state.
COVID-19 outbreaks have been discovered in eight facilities so far. Six of them are located in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties — two of the hardest hit areas of the state.
Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, announced two new outbreaks in Derry including eight residents and five staffers at the Derry Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center and four residents and three employees at the Pleasant Valley Nursing Center. The new outbreaks were discovered as part of ramped up testing the department’s mobile unit and Convenient MD in both counties.
During the last week, Convenient MD and the state’s mobile labs tested 1,500 people with samples being sent to LabCorp, a commercial testing lab. The state had two weeks left in the contract with Convenient MD to test long-term care facilities in both counties, Shibinette said. She expected 6,000 to 6,600 specimens to be obtained by the end of the contract.
They have definitely found asymptomatic transmission in the facilities, she added.
Shibinette also released new data from five of the eight other facilities with outbreaks saying Bellamy Fields in Dover had 33 residents and 10 staffers infected; Easterseal at Gammon Academy in Manchester reported 44 residents and 56 employees testing positive; Hanover Hill Health Care Nursing Home in Manchester had 47 residents and 40 staffers positive; The Huntington at Nashua had 40 positive tests with both residents and staff; and The Residence at Salem Woods also had 21 residents and 5 staffers. The Crotched Mountain Residential Care Facility also reported one death along with 11 staffers and three residents who tested positive two and half weeks ago.
Shibinette said it took “several weeks of having no positives tests to clear a facility of an outbreak” and some of the facilities have had “several days of no positive tests.”
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Updated NH Numbers
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state’s epidemiologist, said there were 2.6 million COVID-19 cases with 845,000 in the United States.
Since discovering New Hampshire first case in early March, 16,809 individuals have been tested with 424 tests pending at the state’s labs, he said. As of Thursday, 1,670 people have been identified with positive tests — 84 more than Wednesday. Hospital care had been required for 218 patients.
Chan also announced three more deaths from the institutional outbreaks in the state bringing the count to 51 who have died due directly or due to complications of COVID-19. Approximately 30 of the 51 New Hampshire deaths were connected to the long-term care facility outbreaks, he said, which was why officials were putting “a heavy emphasis on testing the more vulnerable populations.”
The last 48 hours have been two of the highest numbers of positive infection announcements but Chan said that was due to expanded testing not expansive community transmission. He said testing had nearly doubled daily to between 800 and 900 individuals a day whereas before, it was in the 400 to 450 range.
“Testing is an important strategy not only for understanding the burden in our state but to respond to cluster of infections (like the ones in institutions),” Chan said. “So, the numbers will increase … and we have not yet seen a decrease.”
Chan added, “I don’t want to sound like a broken record … we continue to encourage everybody to perform” the “social and physical distancing measures” like staying at home as much as possible and only going out for the essentials, wearing a cloth covering, and practicing good — and frequent — handwashing and hygiene.
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“We realize this time is stressful,” Chan added, “and a strain on everybody, but thank you, for all the work that you are all collectively doing to help control the spread of COVID-19.”
Federal Funds, Other Updates
Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday that New Hampshire had received its second half of the $1.25 billion CARES Act funding.
On Wednesday, the state also received guidance from the federal government about how it could spend the money. Some state officials still have questions about specifics, he said, so they were looking for more information in order to not have that money “clawed back” by the federal government, at a later, date, due to it not being spent properly.
“I think we’re going to find that money spent wisely … but quickly,” Sununu said. “(But) we have to understand the rules of the game before we step forward.”
The CARES funds could be used for to fix harm done due to COVID-19 as well as business and nonprofit relief but it can’t be used to address revenue shortfalls by communities or to “backfill budgets.” On a call Thursday, the governor explained the spending criteria to a number of mayors and other officials.
“Cities and towns have to be mindful of spending,” Sununu said. “Spending like 2018 are behind us.”
There may be another round of funding by the federal government for cities and towns but right now, that money doesn’t exist, he said.
Sununu was also critical of “gaps” in the Paycheck Protection Program but New Hampshire businesses did receive about $2 billion in loans. Another bill approved in the U.S. Senate was moving forward with about $350 billion in more small business relief — funds that were needed since 97 percent of businesses in the state were small businesses, Sununu noted.
Sununu also said the expansion of testing a positive thing because the tests was finding other infected cases, especially inside of the nursing homes and other facilities, that were not known before.
Chan called the testing process “a crude measure” of the new coronavirus because it doesn’t reflect the actual count of infections in the state — only those people tested. At the same time, hospitalization monitoring and outbreak measures will be able to guide officials on the state of the pandemic in New Hampshire, he added. Health officials would be using the analysis similar to what they do during the flu season to get some idea of what transmission is happening.
Sununu said he would be writing a letter to legislators to revoke potential business tax increase triggers that could be implemented next year — a concern raised by small business owners and others in the state.
Shibinette also stated two homeless people have tested positive for the virus and were being housed in hotels, away from others.
“There will be an end here but, unfortunately, we’re not there yet,” Sununu said.
Stopping 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.
More information from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services about coronavirus can be found here on the department’s website.
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This article originally appeared on the Concord Patch