Coronavirus cases rise while access to testing stalls 

  • This undated photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP)

Published: 3/19/2020 5:37:35 PM

New Hampshire has identified four new cases of coronavirus, state health officials said Thursday, bringing the total number of infected individuals to 43.

More than 1,400 residents have been tested since the outbreak began, according to state epidemiologist Benjamin Chan, and 800 additional tests are awaiting results, meaning the state could have far more positive cases.

While the majority of infections have involved people who have traveled to high-risk places, the state continues to experience community-based transmission, meaning people with no risk factors are contracting the disease, Chan said at a press conference Thursday.

The state is continuing to struggle to meet the demand for testing, despite receiving additional testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control, Chan said.

“The actual test capacity has dramatically increased,” Chan said, referring to the boost in kits. “But the limitations nationally are also present.”

Chan added that the state is working with hospitals to try and boost access to testing.

“There will come a point where there is a need to prioritize testing for those who are seriously ill and those who are at risk of spreading it in our communities,” Chan said.

Those considered a priority will include health care workers and those on the front line of the crisis, Chan said.

The state is encouraging anyone with symptoms to seek testing through hospitals and providers via private labs. However, state officials warned those labs may be experiencing their own shortages of equipment to collect sample swabs for testing.

Chan acknowledged the shortages of tests and supplies to take samples has led to “a number of people who have looked for testing and have had a difficult time obtaining the test.”

The press conference was delayed by about 30 minutes because Gov. Chris Sununu said he was on a conference call with the president and vice president. Sununu said the state is trying to obtain the supplies necessary to collect the samples.

State officials urged anyone who was feeling sick to isolate themselves as much as possible, contact his or her provider, and monitor their symptoms.

“It’s critically important for anyone to limit contact,” Chan said.

The governor also announced he is creating an “Emergency Health Care System” relief fund, which will provide up to $50 million in state taxpayer money to health care organizations that are taking financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Online college

New Hampshire’s public university system is shifting to remote teaching for the remainder of the semester.

The University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Keene State College initially had taken different approaches to students returning after spring break. But university system officials announced Wednesday night that all would extend remote teaching for the rest of the semester while restricting access to the campuses. Housing will continue to be provided to students who do not have a secure place to be and have been granted exceptions.

Likewise, the state’s community colleges will extend their online learning programs through the end of the spring semester. N.H.’s community colleges include Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth and Rochester, Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, Manchester Community College, Nashua Community College, NHTI in Concord, River Valley Community College in Claremont, Keene and Lebanon, and White Mountains Community College in Berlin, North Conway and Littleton.

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