COVID Tuesday update: Bike Week officially postponed, 41 cases have been confirmed in Concord

  • Courtesy—NH DHHS

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

Published: 4/28/2020 7:26:50 AM

New Hampshire’s effort to deal with the ongoing surge in unemployment claims has been getting a lift from the National Guard.

About 200 soldiers and airmen have been answering the phones three call centers to process new and weekly claims for unemployment for the state’s Department of Employment Security.

Now, the Guard’s role is expanding, Adjutant Gen. David Mikolaities said. Around 500 guardsmen are currently involved in the distribution of personal protective equipment, food and testing for COVID-19.

The woek includes sorting and distributing the shipments of masks, gowns, gloves and other items that have come in from Chinese companies in recent weeks. And it involves National Guardsmen at the Manchester food bank, cooking and serving meals in Colebrook, and other locations. 

“Our domestic operations mission is quite simple,” Mikolaites said. “It’s to save lives and mitigate human suffering,” That means fulfilling a need in the state. 

“We fill the capability gaps with the State of New Hampshire cannot fulfill,” he said. 

Among the Guard’s new duties: contact tracing. That’s the process by which those who test positive review everyone they came into contact with so they can self-isolate. 

This year’s effort involves second highest number of Guardsmen deployed at once in New Hampshire’s history,  said Mikolaites, who added that the biggest was in the 1970s in response to the Seabrook nuclear power plant protests.

Laconia Bike Week postponed

The annual event known as Laconia Bike Week, which draws thousands of motorcycle riders to the state each June, has been postponed because of the coronavirus.

The Laconia City Council voted Monday to move the event to the week of Aug. 22. It had been scheduled from June 13 to June 21.

Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said if the COVID-19 situation doesn’t improve by the beginning of August, the organization will have to reassess when to hold the rally.

The numbers

Concord has had 41 cases of COVID-19 so far, of one-third the total of all Merrimack County, according to analysis from the state.

Only seven New Hampshire communities have seen more cases: Rochester on the Seacoast, and clusters near the Massachusetts border: Manchester and Nashua plus Londonderry, Derry and Salem.

This is the first time that the state has released specific numbers for confirmed cases in towns.

The news came as the total number of cases neared 2,000. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the state is 60, almost all of them in senior citizens.

Testing ramp up

Gov. Chris Sununu says New Hampshire is continuing to increase its testing capacity for COVID-19, pointing to what he said was steady progress as the state falls behind its neighbors.

That boost is going to be critical to determining when and how the state re-opens shut down businesses, the governor says. 

“We're ramping up our testing and these new efforts will obviously help guide our decision making our tracking of the viral spread,” Sununu said at a press conference Monday. “We obviously have a lot of very big decisions to make in the weeks ahead and looking at the metrics and the tracking of the data is going to be very important in determining the strategy, and both the short and long term step.”

The governor also unveiled a new goal for New Hampshire: 1500 coronavirus tests a day. That level should put the state in a position to relax portions of the lockdown order should the case levels in the state show continued decreases, Sununu said.

New Hampshire has some catching up to do on testing. An analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute, suggests the Granite State is one of 31 states that will need to boost its testing in order to safely open. 

According to the analysis, which focused on testing records up to April 22, New Hampshire was 705 tests short of hitting the necessary 1,116 daily test count as of April 22. 

Sununu said this week that the state has made significant progress in testing. On several days in the past week, state officials recently hit around 1,000 tests administered, the governor said. 

Overall, the New Hampshire has boosted its testing capability by 80% in recent days, Department of Health and Human Services Lori Shibinette said.

State officials are limited by the size of New Hampshire’s public health laboratory, which currently can only handle two to three hundred tests per day. 

To supplement that, New Hampshire sends tests to private facilities like Labcorp, all of which have expanded and become more efficient, Sununu said.

And it has also used rapid testing machines from Abbott, which can deliver test results in minutes. Initially, New Hampshire had received few cartridges from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but recently the agency has provided more, Sununu said – though still far fewer than he state has requested.

Sununu said to help eventually administer 1500 tests a day, the officials will be using community testing locations across the state. 

“The goal is to make it as easy as possible to test residents close to home and ensure that a more complete and comprehensive map of COVID throughout the state is available, not just in the counties, but really working to identify any additional potentials for community based transmission,” he said. 

No re-opening yet

One week away from the expiration of New Hampshire’s “stay at home” order, which shuttered non-essential businesses to the public, Sununu warned Granite Staters not to expect a re-opening soon.

The order, which has been extended in recent weeks, is set to expire May 4.

“I don't think that's going away after the fourth,” Sununu said at a press conference Monday. “But we may be able to come back and and augment it and adjust it and try to create some flexibilities there so people can start getting back, in some sense, to normalcy.”

The announcement came a day before Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday a four-step re-opening plan, beginning Friday. 

But Sununu argued that given an ongoing severe outbreak in Massachusetts, New Hampshire can’t risk becoming a destination for Bay Staters willing to cross the border. Re-opening restaurants and retail outlets could raise that risk, he said.

“You look at the maps county by county in Massachusetts: The hotspots are the North Shore,” Sununu said. “The hotspots of their state, which is the hotspot of the country, is actually the counties that most directly border Hillsborough and Rockingham.” 

The comments come as a group pressing for the lockdown order to be lifted vowed to stage a second rally in Concord this coming Saturday. But state and national polling has shown that clear majorities of residents continue to back the stay at home orders as the virus continues its spread.

Sununu addressed that sentiment Monday.

“There's a lot of people who say just open things back up,” he said. “Just do it. That's incredibly irresponsible thing to do for a variety of reasons and I think most people understand that.”

The Governor’s Economic Re-opening Taskforce, a panel of lawmakers, officials, and stakeholders, continued to meet over phone this week. 

No Bonner Basketball Camp, either

Here’s another sports-related cancellation due to COVID-19: Luke Bonner, former Concord High School basketball great, won’t hold the Bonner Basketball Camp in New Hampshire for the first time in 17 years.

“We still invite you all to join us for daily virtual warm-ups/ball-handling sessions every morning at 9 a.m. throughout the scheduled week of camp. We will also aim to set up some virtual lecture/Q+A sessions as well,” Bonner wrote in an email announcement. “Your patience is greatly appreciated as we begin working with our registration company to begin processing refunds - this will likely take a bit to navigate.”

State senator recovered

State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and her husband, Jeff Clark, have both recovered after contracting COVID-19, the Portsmouth Democrat said. 

“The biggest hurdle to our recovery was extreme fatigue and continuing fevers,” Clark said in a statement. “I want to especially thank the members of that department who called us every day or so to see how we were doing. It was very reassuring.”

Of the 2,000 or so people who have been identified with the disease about 800, or 40% have fully recovered, state officials said. 

A bit more highway traffic

The number of cars using E-ZPass on New Hampshire turnpikes has edged up three weeks in a row, but it’s still only about half the level it was before COVID-19 hit.

Total traffic for the week ending Sunday was 1.07 million, according to the state Department of Transportation. That’s the first time that more than a million weekly E-ZPass trips have been registered since the end of March and about 11% more trips that were taken at the start of this month, when the shutdown hit.

However, the total is still only about 45% of the traffic level that was seen at this time last year, when 2.21 million trips were registered.

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

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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