COVID Thursday update: Petition urges governor to lift state of emergency order, outbreak identified in Concord

  • A group of protestors on the steps of the Capital protest some of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's new executive orders Wednesday, April 15, 2020 around noon. Daniel Mears

Published: 4/16/2020 12:59:41 PM

Thousands of people have signed a petition urging Gov. Chris Sununu to rescind his declaration of a state of emergency and allow residents and businesses to decide for themselves which restrictions are reasonable.

“We believe free adults should be able to make their own decisions and assume the consequences of their actions, and people who are at risk or fear they are at risk have the right to isolate and protect themselves,” reads the petition put forward at reopennh.com. It is not clear how many of the signers live in New Hampshire, or whether each esignature represents a different person.

Some people are planning to rally outside the State House in Concord on Saturday. That rally is supported by the Reopen NH group, but not organized by it.

“We believe the emergency orders issued by Gov. Sununu are arbitrary and unbalanced, particularly in determining ‘essential’ and ‘non essential’ organizations and allowing people to assemble in the supermarket but not in their place of work or community, which are equally susceptible to transmission of the virus,” the petition states.

The petition claims at least one in seven New Hampshire workers have lost their jobs as businesses were forced to close, perhaps for good.

“We believe that the occasion of this virus does not warrant the suspension of liberty that has been attempted, and that many citizens of New Hampshire are suffering undue hardships from loss of livelihood, purpose and community, and that such suspension of liberty is unwarranted,” the petition states.

It urges Sununu to end the state of emergency declaration and “allow free adults to make their own decisions about whether they want to open their businesses or other organizations, seek gainful employment, or patronize businesses and other organizations, as is their right.”

Concord outbreak

State officials have identified a new outbreak of coronavirus cases at a Concord long-term behavioral health care facility, including one death.

Two residents and six staff members at the Institute of Professional Practice in Concord have tested positive for the virus, Department of Health and Human Services head Lori Shibinette announced Thursday.

One client of the facility has died, she said. The outbreak was identified several days ago at the Institute, which provides services for adults and children with disabilities.

The death was not confirmed as a positive COVID-19 case for a few days.

No new cases have been identified at the facility in the past few days, but health officials are monitoring and increasing testing. State officials did not release further information on the death, including the age of the individual.

The outbreak is one of three new identified hotspots in New Hampshire long term care facilities announced Thursday. The Residence at Salem Woods has seen 21 residents and four staff members infected, and Bellamy Fields in Dover has experienced five positive cases in residents and five in staff, Shibinette said.

Previously, state officials have identified COVID-19 outbreaks at Huntington at Nashua nursing home, Hanover Hill Health Care in Manchester and Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, which have included staff infections and resident deaths.

As of Thursday, 1,211 people in New Hampshire have tested positive for the virus, and 34 have died.

State reviews impact

State agency heads said the coronavirus pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on New Hampshire.

A legislative panel advising the new Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery heard from half a dozen departments Wednesday while it waits for further guidance on the $1.25 billion New Hampshire expects to receive from the federal aid bill.

Every part of the state’s health care system is stressed, DHHS Commissioner Shibinette said. She reminded the committee that while hospital and nursing homes obviously will need help, so, too, will other health care providers, from individual dentists to community mental health centers.

“The infrastructure itself is held up by services that wrap around those big entities,” she said. “All of the services and service providers that keep people healthy in the community are the people that we don’t always see, and those are the organizations that we also need to support.”

The state now has a great supply of surgical masks but still needs protective gowns, she said, as well as supplies for the rapid COVID-19 testing machines it recently received. So far, only four of the 15 machines are being used.

The department also has been struggling with how to alleviate crowding at homeless shelters to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and how to provide safe shelter for homeless individuals who have been exposed, she said. Contracts are expected to be in place by the end of the week to address both of those problems, she said.

The department of Employment Security has quickly sent out three quarters of the total amount of money it paid out in all of 2019.

Since expanding unemployment benefits last month, the state has paid $31.7 million to more than 114,000 people, said Commissioner George Copadis. About 70% of claims have been paid so far. The federal government will cover 40% of those costs, he said.

Deputy Commissioner Richard Lavers said Tuesday marked the state’s largest payment day ever when 35,000 people were paid $9.8 million. In contrast, the state paid out about $40 million all of last year.

The Department of Safety said rising numbers of police officers, firefighters and EMTs are in quarantine around the state.

Officials said 76 emergency service workers were in quarantine Wednesday: 48 police officers, 12 firefighters and 12 emergency medical technicians. A similar number of state law enforcement officers also were quarantine.

A new stakeholder advisory board of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery was scheduled to meet by phone Thursday to begin discussing recommendations on relief efforts for communities and private industries. The group’s initial members include those representing farms, hospitals, community action programs, ski areas and other industries.

Meanwhile, a hearing is set for Friday in a lawsuit filed by Democratic lawmakers who insist the Legislature’s fiscal committee must approve how the state spends its $1.25 billion in federal relief aid.

Crisis center funding

Money from a $600,000 emergency fund established to provide life-saving services to victims of domestic and sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic will soon reach the state’s 13 crisis centers.

On Wednesday, Sununu approved the grant request from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which oversees the crisis centers in the state. The application was first received by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which then sought Sununu’s approval.

Off the $600,000, a total of $400,000 is for crisis center operations, $125,000 is for victims’ immediate needs to include groceries and personal care products, and $75,000 is for emergency shelter to include hotel stays.

“This emergency fund will ensure that domestic and sexual violence centers have the resources needed to provide critical services to victims of domestic violence,” Sununu said in a statement.

Sununu initially established the fund through an executive order signed on April 1.

(Staff writers Jonathan Van Fleet, Ethan DeWitt and Alyssa Dandrea contributed  to this report.)




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