COVID update: Stipends for front-line workers, masks for business that are opening

  • Courtesy—N.H. DOT

Monitor staff
Published: 5/4/2020 7:14:05 AM

New Hampshire is making cloth face masks available at DMV locations around the state in the latest expenditure from the federal CARES Act, as well as offering reimbursement to cities and towns for COVID-related costs.

Those two programs were announced Monday by Gov. Chris Sununu at a press conference.

Sununu also announced that weekly stipends would be available for first responders in police, firefighting, ambulance and corrections departments. Full-time responders would be available for $300 a week, while part-time and volunteer responders could be eligible for $50 to $125 a week, depending on their service and training.

Sununu also said his administration was making $40 million of the state’s $1.25 billion CARES Act funding, available for municipalities to cover COVID-related expenses through Aug. 31. That includes work on municipal buildings, costs for shelters, telework costs and “child care for first responders.”

During the press conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan urged people to wear cloth masks, even outdoors, noting that COVID-19 will be with us “for many months” at the very least.

“We get asked questions about cloth mask frequently. We strongly encourage when out in public places to wear a cloth face mask or cloth face covering. … They were developed to prevent other people from coming into contact with your respiratory secretions, your mucus, your saliva. It’s a way to protect other people,” Chan said.

He also urged people to keep their pets leashed or under control outdoors, to protect the animals as much as to protect people.

“There no evidence that animals play a significant role in spread of COVID-19 … There have been some small number of reports of animals, worldwide, becoming infected with COVID-19 from people,” Chan said, adding there is no evidence that the disease has passed the other way, from animals to people.

Under questioning from Sununu, Chan said his family’s pet is a rabbit. “Not going on any long walks, then,” the governor commented.

More tests find more cases

The number of COVID-19 tests has increased greatly in New Hampshire, bringing with it many more positive results.

More deaths are reported, as well: Five more people over the age of 60 were reported over the weekend to have died from the disease, bringing the state total to 86.

The Department of Health and Human Services says that more than 1,500 individuals were tested for COVID-19 on Friday, May 1, the highest one-day total yet. Two weeks ago the state was testing only a couple hundred people per day.

On Monday, Chan said New Hampshire has tested 26,870 people so far, with 2,588 cases detected – a positive rate of 9.6%.

He said 286 patients have been hospitalized, a hospitalization rate of 11%. Almost half, about 48%, have recovered.

The state also announced 121 new cases on Saturday, the second highest daily total ever, and 90 cases on Sunday.

Legislators push lawsuit over COVID-19 funding

A group of Democrat legislators is asking a Superior Court judge to reconsider his decision to throw out a lawsuit that would prevent the governor from spending COVID-19 money without approval from a legislative committee.

The reconsideration request was filed with Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge David Anderson, who dismissed their suit last month saying they lacked standing to bring the suit.

Senate President Donna Soucy, House Speaker  Steve Shurtleff, Senate Finance Committee Chair Lou D'Allesandro and House Finance Committee Chair Mary Jane Wallner filed the motion Friday asking for reconsideration, claiming Fiscal Committee members have been denied their constitutional and legal right to vote on accepting the federal money.

“The governor's actions have deprived Fiscal Committee members their st atutory right to vote on appropriations and nullified their votes,  causing   personalized injuries," the motion says.

They also filed an  amended complaint adding four members of the Fiscal Committee, all Democrats, saying that the lawm  akers are taxpayers and under state law would be able to challenge what they consider illegal spending by the governor.

Sununu claims a 2002 law passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks gives governors authority to spend money during emergencies. The debate concerns $1.25 billion that New Hampshire has received under the stimulus package known as the CARES Act.

Face masks at courts

Attorneys, litigants and members of the public must wear face masks when entering any of New Hampshire’s courthouses.

The court order, issued Monday, recommends that people use their own face coverings, but courts will provide masks for those who don’t have their own.

Staff and judges are not required to wear masks when they can maintain a six-foot buffer between themselves and others, the order says.

The state’s courts have operated on a limited basis since mid-March and remain largely closed for in-person hearings. Additionally, all civil and criminal jury trials have been canceled until further notice.

Highway traffic edging up

The traffic on New Hampshire turnpikes as measured by E-ZPass has risen four weeks in a row and last week was about 20% higher than the low point in the first week of April.

According to New Hampshire Department of Transportation, 1.139 million vehicles went through tolls last week, compared to 934,000 at the start of April. However, last week’s total is still far below the average of around 2 million weekly trips before the coronavirus hit.

The recent increase is driven almost entirely by cars. The number of trucks registered by E-ZPass has hardly increased in a month, at about 110,000 trips. Car trips, on the other hand, have gone from 723,000 to 901,000 – an increase of about 25% in a month.

Housing funds

Housing agencies throughout New Hampshire will get nearly $3.6 million in coronavirus aid, the state's congressional delegation said Monday.

The funding was distributed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Public Housing Operation Fund, used to support housing authorities for the operating and maintenance expenses of their buildings, and its Housing Choice Voucher Program, used to help low-income, disabled and elderly poor people afford housing.

(Staff writer Alyssa Dandrea contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press on housing funds was included.)

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