COVID-19 update for Monday: Health projection says N.H. could see up to 350 deaths

  • NHTI has been designated an “alternate care site” for the Concord, Franklin and Lakes Region hospitals.  GEOFF FORESTER

  • Portable cots line the basketball court at a makeshift medical facility in a gymnasium at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The facility, and others across the state, will open when there is demand for patients impacted with COVID-19. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 3/30/2020 11:58:30 AM

New Hampshire could see around 350 deaths by the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its grimmest days are still a ways away. 

That’s the conclusion form a new national projection that says that even if social distancing is maintained, the peak in cases and deaths in the Granite State is not due until April 30.

The state-by-state statistical overview by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a global health monitoring organization run out of the University of Washington, suggests that New Hampshire could see up to an average of 11 deaths per day at its peak.

That peak would last about a week – from April 28 to May 4, the projections show. 

Overall, New Hampshire could see around 351 deaths by the time the crisis is over, the analysis suggests.

The new projections are a best- case scenario if social distancing is maintained and New Hampshire’ s businesses cont inue to be shuttered. And the extrapolations are driven by data on COVID-19 cases from the World Health Organization at the local and national level – as well as hospital-specific data.

The analysis found that the United States as a whole has fallen behind.

“In addition to a large number of deaths from COVID-19, the epidemic in the US will place a load well beyond the current capacity of hospitals to manage, especially for ICU care,” IHME Director Christopher J.L. Murray stated in the study.

The IHME also ran an analysis on bed capacity in the Granite State. With present hospital bed availability, New Hampshire could see a shortage of 109 standard beds and 87 intensive care unit beds, the analysis suggests.

The numbers demonstrate that hospitals and health leaders must work to temporarily increase capacity and clear low-priority patients from hospitals, Murray wrote.

“These are urgently needed given that peak volumes are estimated to be only three weeks away,” he wrote.

New Hampshire officials have been working with the National Guard to create “flex areas” to allow for additional beds in gymnasiums and community colleges so hospitals can focus on those with the most immediate needs.

The projections also measured the ventilator needs of each state. New Hampshire will need 136 by the end of the crisis, the analysis found.

Expanded benefits

Those collecting state unemployment insurance could soon be eligible for a higher amount.

On Monday, Gov Chris Sununu announced that the minimum benefits would be greatly increased in New Hampshire, using funding from the $2 trillion federal COVID relief package.

For more than a decade, the unemployment insurance benefit has been a minimum of $32 a week and a high of $427. But Sununu announced that $32 low will be increased to $169, with an extra $600 a week being added next week.

Sununu also said that the benefits will be available for an extra 13 weeks, up to 39 weeks or about 9 months.

Part of that will be financed from the $1.25 billion New Hampshire is set to receive as part of a $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last week.

“People who are already drawing from unemployment insurance will not need to take new steps. Just keep filing through state channels,” Sununu said at a COVID-19 update press conference.

The governor also announced that the deadline for business tax payment has been pushed to June 15 “for approximately 98% of small businesses” in the state, and the payment of interest and dividends tax also pushed to June 15 for almost all people.

NHTI to serve as Concord hospital bed surge area

Concord’s community college is offering to house around 300 additional hospital beds if needed in case COVID-19 patients overrun local hospitals, the college announced Monday.

NHTI has been designated an “alternate care site” for the Concord, Franklin and Lakes Region hospitals – one of eight across the state – the college said in a news release.

The institution has dedicated two of its buildings to host beds for a mix of hospitals, including Concord Hospital, Lakes Region General Hospital, Franklin Regional Hospital, the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association, the Capital Area Public Health Network and the Winnipesaukee Public Health Network.

The beds will allow the hospitals a new space for coronavirus patients who have tested positive but don’t need acute care such as ventilators, the college said.

“While we hope this site never has to become operational, we stand ready, as a community partner, to provide support and work with health care partners during these difficult times,” said Dr. Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki, the president of NHTI, in a statement Monday.

The news comes a week after Gov. Chris Sununu and health officials launched the first patient overflow facility – which he called a “flex area” – at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. That space includes 250 additional beds for Manchester-area hospitals.

NHTI has designated Langley Hall and Sweeney Hall for the bed space, including the student center and gymnasium. The college will close those spaces for the public and will also close the campus library due to its facility.

NHTI had already transitioned to remote learning, offering classes online, and there is limited use of the campus currently, the college said.

College officials said they would open up the facilities for a tour by the media at some point this week.

Standardized tests on hold

At his press conference Monday, Sununu said the state Department of Education said standardized tests will not take place in New Hampshire this semester.

The DOE is working with the College Board, which owns the SAT testing program, “to provide access for students who want to take them this summer and early fall,” Sununu said, adding that officials would “work on ways to gauge student performance” that doesn’t depend on national standardized tests.

Sununu also said the state is requesting a major disaster declaration from the federal government to allow “a variety of opportunities” including reimbursement of state National Guard units if they are called out to help the COVID-19 response.

Traffic dwindles

The COVID-19 shutdown continues to be visible on New Hampshire highways – or, rather, invisible, since the big difference is the cars that aren’t there.

That’s cars, not trucks: So far, the number of truck trips on the state’s turnpike system hasn’t declined very much, an indication that the supply chain of products seems to be intact.

According to the state Department of Transportation, barely 1 million vehicle trips were made on the state’s turnpike system for the week through Sunday, March 28, the lowest recorded in many years. That figure is one-third less than the 1.3 million trips of the prior week, and 54% less than the 2.2 million trips during the same week a year ago.

Car trips fell by more than 300,000 last week to 830,000 by far the lowest this fiscal year, which started July 1, 2019. Total truck trips fell about 8,000 to 112,660 trips, which is still above four other weeks recorded this fiscal year.

In addition, the state has stopped staffing EZPass tollbooths from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The turnpike system includes Interstate 95, the Spaulding Turnpike, and the F.E. Everett Turnpike, which includes Route 3 and Interstate 93 up through Concord.

(David Brooks contributed to this report. Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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