Public schools closing down – some for a day, some for weeks – due to virus threat

Monitor staff
Published: 3/13/2020 9:48:36 AM

First, it was colleges canceling classes and moving to online instruction, now the state’s public schools are following suit. 

Schools in Nashua, Exeter, Bedford, Hampstead and Plaistow announced they would close down for days while evaluating the coronavirus threat. Nashua and Bedford announced they would close for one week, while Exeter and Timberlane schools said they would close for two weeks.

Concord-area schools have mostly kept their class schedules intact, but could change course. For example, the Bow School District canceled its annual meeting Friday night, but called and emergency school board meeting instead and elected to prepare for online education.

Merrimack Valley, Bow and Kearsage school districts each called off school for students Monday with an eye toward a possible longer closure. Merrimack Valley has schools in Boscawen, Webster, Salisbury, Penacook and Loudon.

“To address any potential future need for a long-term closure of school as a result of COVID 19, the Kearsarge District will be cancelling school for students on Monday, March 16, 2020,” the district said in a statement. “Staff will have a professional work day during which they will be preparing remote learning activities and lessons for students.”  

Concord Superintendent Frank Bass announced Thursday that classes will continue as usual but the district is trying to limit large gatherings “where the spread of the virus could become problematic.”

As a result, the band and orchestra concerts scheduled for next week have been pushed back a month. 

“Any decision about the closure of schools will not be made unilaterally, but in concert with DHHS and NH DOE advice. Let us all hope that eventuality never occurs,” Bass said.

Illustrating the fluidity of the situation, on Thursday night the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association announced it would still hold championship tournaments but with reduced crowds. Hours later all professional sports effectively suspended their seasons. Friday morning, the NHIAA reversed course and suspended all tournaments until further notice. 

Emergency rooms crowded

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon is telling doctors not to send patients to the emergency department unless absolutely necessary because of an increase of patients in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

“If a patient does not exhibit signs that warrant an emergency department evaluation or immediate hospital admission, providers should ask the patient to don a mask and return to their home for self-quarantine, and follow CDC guidelines pending further decisions on Covid-19 testing,” the center said in a release to providers and the public.

It also asks patients of Dartmouth-Hitchcock not to come directly to the emergency room if they are “experiencing fever, cough, or shortness of breath or are concerned about potential exposure to Covid-19” but first to call a hotline 650-1818 “for screening and, if appropriate, scheduling testing.”

The moves comes “in response to an increase in the number of patients who are being sent directly to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Emergency Department in Lebanon for screening and testing,” the center noted.

MacDowell Colony shutting

The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, one of the nation’s best-known artist retreats, is closing for the first time since it was hit by the massive hurricane of 1938.

The colony hosts up to 32 artists from all over the world, who live in separate cabins scattered around the property for weeks at a time. Those on hand will be sent home and no new artists will arrive until the closure is lifted, said MacDowell Executive Director Philip Himberg in a public statement.

Wither sports betting?

New Hampshire’s newest income source, online sports betting, is taking a hit as professional and minor leagues and college sports throughout the U.S. gets canceled in reaction to the Covid-19 virus. 

“We are seeing a decline in wagers as a direct result of sporting events being canceled and postponed. We are continuing to monitor sales but in a fluid situation such as this, it is difficult to make any specific projections at this time,” wrote Maura McCann, spokeswoman for NH Lottery, in response to a Monitor query.

Since it started Dec. 30, 2019, more than $42.5 million has been wagered by 40,300 registered users, according to the stae. 

New Hampshire became the second New England state to offer sports betting last year, after Rhode Island. The state approved a six-year contract with Boston-based DraftKings to operate sports books in the state.

Betting is likely to expand, as some 15 communities are debating whether to allow in-person sports betting in their town. 

While betters await return of the NBA and NHL, McCann said they have options: “While many U.S.-based sporting events have been canceled or postponed, there are still international sporting events taking place that players continue to place wagers on.”

However, sporting events throughout the world are being canceled because of the virus, including in tennis and soccer, two DraftKings offerings.  

Church services go online

The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Concord has “suspended all in-person church activities” and will move “as many as possible online,” including Sunday morning service.

“ I look forward to the many ways this will show and shine as we practice ‘Physical Distancing while Staying Connected’,” wrote Rev. Michael Leuchtenberger in a note to the congregation. 

Unitil cautious for in-home visits

Unitil is telling customers that if they need help in their home for electrical or natural gas service, they will need to assure staffers that it’s safe. 

“If you need to schedule service, our Customer Service team may ask you questions regarding whether or not you have tested positive for Covid-19 or have been asked to voluntarily quarantine yourself. We ask you to answer these questions honestly, so that our team of technicians can take the appropriate steps to protect themselves from infection if a home visit is required,” the company wrote in a release.

The numbers

Six people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in New Hampshire: Three men in Grafton County and three men in Rockingham County. Nearly 300 people are being monitored by the state.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of people recover. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

St. Patrick’s Day

The St. Patrick's Parade in Manchester, set for March 29, has been canceled.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this  report.)

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