December 2, 2021

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Unemployment Funds Up; Standardized Tests Dropped

CONCORD, NH — All weekend, state officials have been looking for “innovative ideas” to tackle the new coronavirus in New Hampshire, according to Gov. Chris Sununu. At a news conference Monday, the governor said he participated on conference calls with the state’s mayors and state representatives to get a sense of what was going on “at the grassroots level.” Sununu said officials were using different aspects to manage the crisis during these “unprecedented times we’re going through.”

Sununu announced three new initiatives the state would be taking this week including informing the federal government that standardized testing this year would be suspended and the state would be applying for a federal disaster declaration. On the testing, Sununu said implementing them “sends the wrong message to New Hampshire family members” who are doing everything they can to work with educators to teach their children remotely. A plan for college tests, like SATs, would be put together later in the year, with the College Board. Assessment materials will also be circulated, Sununu said.

The federal CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last week, will send $1.2 billion to the state, Sununu said. For those eligible under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, he said, there will be an increase of between $32 to $168 per week, including those earning less than $15,500 annually, and then a $600 per week increase, per individual. Unemployment will also be extended 13 weeks to 39 weeks, Sununu said. Anyone collecting unemployment now doesn’t need to take any new steps — the funds should be automatic.

“This benefit builds on the fact that New Hampshire was able to be one of the first states in the country to offer expanded unemployment benefits,” Sununu said, while also thanking the commissioners and employees of Employment Security who were “working around the clock … to help ensure that these benefits can be accessed immediately.”

The CARES Act will also provide more money for small business, child care block grants that can be used to fund the state’s day care initiative, substance abuse and mental health assistance, and, in addition to the $50 million money for hospitals that state has already earmarked, more funds will be available for unreimbursed health care costs, he said.

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The state is also extending the business tax deadline for around 98 percent of the state’s businesses as well as interest and dividends taxpayers to June 15, Sununu said.

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said currently, more than 5,700 tests have been taken on patients in New Hampshire with 314 positive diagnosis — an increase of 100 patients in the last 48 hours.

Chan said, “the majority of these individuals have mild infections” — with 45 of the state’s patients hospitalized, about 14 percent.

Three people have died due to the virus. All three were over the age of 60 and also had medical conditions, Chan said. The fact that the deaths were people who were older — which is a majority of New Hampshire residents — “should remind everybody that this is the population of residents in our state we want to protect,” he added. The state is also nearly caught up on all its testing — with less than 100 pending, Chan said.

Chan said the public should expect to see “an increase in the number of cases in New Hampshire” and the pandemic is in “the acceleration phase” nationally.

“We will continue to see increasing number cases in New Hampshire,” Chan said. “We aren’t just watching the numbers; we are actively out investigating these cases.”

Health officials continue to see increasing numbers of infections from residents without high-risk factors or travel history — which shows evidence of community-based transmission. The key message to Granite Staters? This virus is out in our community and circulating — so everyone needs to take steps to stop the spread of the virus Chan said. New studies are also showing pre-symptomatic transmission, he said.

“I say this to highlight a point,” Chan said. “It’s not just those who are symptomatic … this is the reason why there is a recommendation of social distancing … if you don’t need to go out urgently, please stay a home.”

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After conversations with local health officials around the state, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services will state reporting cases on a city and town level sometime this week. But whether people live in a community with many cases or none, Chan encouraged residents to operate under the assumption that COVID-19 can be caught by anyone, anywhere.

Help Stop The Spread Of COVID-19

COVID-19, not unlike the flu and other respiratory illnesses, 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

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