First N.H. death due to coronavirus

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces a series of emergency orders on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Concord, N.H., in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The orders create immediate access to unemployment benefits for residents unable to work or facing reduced hours due to the new coronavirus pandemic. He also took steps to protect people from being evicted or having utilities shut off in the next few weeks. (AP photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

Monitor staff
Published: 3/23/2020 1:39:58 PM

New Hampshire announced its first coronavirus death Monday, a grim milestone that state health officials say underscores the need to stay inside as much as possible. 

A Hillsborough County man over the age of 60 died over the weekend, according to Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist.

The man, whom state officials did not identify, had tested positive for the virus and had pre-existing health conditions, Chan said. 

“I want to express our sympathies for the family and friends of this individual,” Chan said. “This is an unfortunate situation, and one that we certainly want to try and avoid, but we know that this virus can cause serious illness and even death and those who are more susceptible to serious infection.”

Chan did not provide additional details about the man’s hometown. 

The number of COVID-19 cases is now at 101 and that number is expected to increase, said Chan.

The state has tested 2,400 people so far, and has an additional 870 tests that are pending, Chan added. Chan continued to urge people to practice social distancing and said residents should avoid all unnecessary domestic and international travel.

“This is the exact group of individuals that is at highest risk for serious COVID-19 related complications such as hospitalization and even death,” Chan said, referring to the deceased man. “So I want to use this opportunity also to acknowledge that, as a community, we need to do what we can to protect the more vulnerable individuals.”

News of the death comes as Gov. Chris Sununu says the state is planning to ramp up its testing capacity, as the virus continues its spread through the U.S.

Sununu said that the state is expected to triple its testing capacity in the next 24 hours, though supplies will likely still fall below demand. 

The state is also working with Southern New Hampshire University to build up emergency bed capacity in case of a “medical surge” prompted by a flood of new cases in coming weeks, Sununu announced.

Moving forward, New Hampshire is adopting guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and advising no gatherings of 10 people or more, Sununu said.

The governor has also directed state departments to allow their employees to work from home when possible, he said Monday. 

Still, New Hampshire is not contemplating a “shelter in place” order similar to one passed by other states, and it is not following Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s lead in ordering a shutdown of non-essential businesses, Sununu said.

However, the governor didn’t rule it out. 

“How we act in these days and weeks ahead are going to be very important,” he said. “If it becomes clear that we're unable to continue with the social distancing, further action may be necessary in order to ensure the health and safety of our neighbors.”

An increase in “flex” health care areas

New Hampshire officials are racing to build-up additional spaces to take in patients should hospitals get overwhelmed with virus cases, Sununu said Tuesday.

In order to accommodate what is known as “medical surge,” New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services is working with the U.S. National Guard and the state’s hospitals to build up seven “flex areas” across the state.

Those areas will be equipped with medical equipment and beds to give nearby hospitals the flexibility to transfer patients as the virus become more acute, a spokesman for DHHS, Jake Leon, said.

So far, the state is close to finishing work in one of the seven flex areas: the Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. That space is being outfitted with equipment now, Leon said.

The state is still in the process of finding suitable places for the six other geographical areas, Leon added. 

Addressing reporters, Sununu said the effort is intended “to ensure that our hospital system and our healthcare system can manage the influx of requests that are not just coming in today but will likely come in the coming in the future.”

He added that it could incorporate any facility willing to help. “Folks have come up and actually offer their entire hotel to the state for whatever way we want to use it,” he said.

Testing, supplies set to increase

Sununu said the state is expecting “a whole shipment” of testing swabs coming in that will help it build up its capacity for testing – allowing for a three-fold increase in the next 24 hours.

New Hampshire had earlier put in a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more “personal protective equipment” such as face masks and gowns and is receiving that equipment, Sununu said. Officials have since put in a second request.

And the state is contracting with outside companies and some manufacturers in the state, after recently being freed up to do so by a federal executive order. 

More than 30 companies in New Hampshire have offered to dedicate their factories to creating more masks, gloves and ventilators in the crisis, Department of Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell said in a statement Monday. He declined to name the businesses.

Schools could stay closed past April

Sununu said that the Department of Education will make a decision in a week of whether it will extend the physical closure of schools – currently set to expire Friday, April 3.

But he and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said that parents should expect the schools to be closed for the foreseeable future. 

“This crisis is not going to go away in a couple of weeks,” Sununu said. “So the likelihood of continuing that is more likely than not.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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