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COVID Thursday update: Motorcycle week in doubt, more testing leads to increase in cases

  • Courtesy—NH DHHS

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

Published: 4/23/2020 7:51:06 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu doesn’t seem very hopeful about Motorcycle Week happening this year, although he says it’s too early to rule it out.

At a Thursday press conference, Sununu pointed to concerns about the popular event, which draws many thousands of people to Laconia and the Lakes Region. It is currently scheduled to run June 13 to June 21.

“I don’t know where we’ll be in June. … I hope we could open people up, but as of right now we couldn’t,” Sununu said. “That’s inviting a lot of folks from areas of high COVID incidence into the state. … There’s a lot of events where people are in close proximity.”

And, he added, even if officials decide that it’s safe to hold the annual event, questions remain about fears of crowds: “Will people actually come, even if we do open it up?”

COVID and race

COVID-19 is affecting Latinos and blacks in New Hampshire at a greater rate than whites, according to the state’s first analysis of the disease by race and ethnicity, echoing a pattern seen in most of the country.

The state said that overall so far, Latinos have been infected with the coronavirus at a rate higher than their presence in the population – 6.1% of patients were Latino or Hispanic, whereas 3.9% of the state’s population is – and blacks had the disease almost four times more often than their presence in the population would indicate: 5.4% of confirmed cases were in African Americans, which make up just 1.4% of the state’s population.

This pattern is similar to one seen in other parts of the country where COVID-19 is more prevalent in minority populations. This is probably due to socio-economic differences such as access to health care and living in places where it’s easier to stay separated.

Support for that hypothesis comes in the fact that the state’s Asian population, which on average is better off than other minority groups, had 3.2% of all cases, almost the same as their 3.0% proportion of the population.

The data covers the 80% of confirmed cases here race and ethnicity of the patient is know, the state said.

In other analysis of the disease through April 20, 54% of cases were in women and 46% in men. Merrimack County is home to 96 cases, or 7% of the total, whereas the county has 11% of the state’s population. This difference reflects the fact that the disease has been more prevalent in New Hampshire’s population southeast corner, especially the cities of Manchester and Nashua.

The state does not release specific figures for Concord, saying only that it has had between 20 and 49 cases.

More testing finds more cases

The number of new cases of COVID-19 has risen sharply in the past two days but that’s a function of more testing, not necessarily more disease, state epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said Thursday.

“We do not believe this means there is an increase in the spread of COVID-19,” Chan said at an afternoon press conference Thursday. “Rather, we believe this increase is from an increase in the testing, a direct result of efforts we have been making to test more broadly.”

Chan said in recent days there have been between 800 and 900 tests per day in the state, as compared to 400 to 450 a week ago.

“We plan to continue to ramp that up,” he said, pointing to the value of testing to “identify and then suppress or contain clusters” of disease outbreaks. On Thursday the state reported three new deaths, all in people over age 60 at nursing homes or other community housing.

The state has reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 in the past two days, close to twice the total of any previous two-day total.

In response to questions, Chan said it can be misleading to look only at the number of new cases to judge the status of the coronavirus.

“There’s not any one specific number or metric … to show us when transmission spread in the community is really down-trending,” said Chan.

Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, agreed: “It’s not just the number of cases, it the percentage of positive results, and hospitalization rates. They would have to decline for several weeks before I would be comfortable in saying we’re in a consistent downward trend.”

State receives full federal aid, with strings attached

New Hampshire has now received the full amount of federal COVID-19 stimulus money attached to the CARES Act – $1.25 billion in total, Sununu announced Thursday.

And the state has finally received guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department over how it can spend that money, after weeks of waiting.

According to the treasury, the money can be used to fund any COVID-19 relief effort, including assistance to health care organizations and businesses.

Not approved: any use of money to help make up for revenue losses at the state or town level, Sununu said. That means hundreds of millions in anticipated revenue losses in the next year can’t be plugged with the stimulus money, according to the governor.

That likely means one thing: budget cuts.

“The days of spending like it’s 2018 are behind us,” Sununu said.

Sununu said he is holding out hope for a second Congressional aid package that could provide direct federal aid to state governments. But that idea has faced resistance among Washington Republicans lately, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Wednesday he “would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” in lieu of federal aid.

Sununu, a Republican himself, assailed McConnell’s comment Thursday, calling them “dangerous.”

Fairs canceled

Some summer fairs In New Hampshire have already been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Stratham Fair, annually the first in a season of fairs that stretches into October, on Wednesday called off the event, scheduled for July 16-19.

The annual Lancaster Fair, held during Labor Day weekend, also was canceled.

“At this time of year, the Fair Board would typically be fundraising, hiring entertainment, entering into contracts, and making decisions about our fair programs,” the directors said in a statement Wednesday. “During this public health pandemic, when our entire community is under such an intense strain, it is not feasible to request or make such commitments.”

Two test positive at nursing home

One resident and one staff member at the Grafton County Nursing Home have tested positive for COVID-19.

County Commissioner Linda Lauer, of Bath, said the results of the resident’s test came back late Wednesday afternoon. The resident, who “is doing very well,” was tested after a member of the staff of one of the facility’s four units tested positive, Lauer said in a phone interview on Thursday.

“Whether it came from that staff member or not it’s hard to say,” she said. “With all the precautions that the nursing home has been taking, we did not anticipate this.”

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

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