COVID update: Testing request system gets lots of use, colleges plan for fall return

  • Leah Zarrilli (right) photographs her friends and fellow senior classmates, dressed with their graduation caps, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Friday. AP

  • A lone skateboarder rides through the empty campus at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., Friday, May 8, 2020. Commencement ceremonies, which were scheduled for May 16th, were postponed due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Published: 5/8/2020 8:04:00 AM

New Hampshire’s public four-year colleges and universities and its community colleges plan to welcome students back to their campuses across the state this fall, officials said Friday.

The University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System are working with state leaders and health professionals to develop guidelines and criteria to support a safe return, while also preparing for other scenarios should it be necessary to continue some form of remote learning.

“We are pleased to speak as one voice for public higher education in New Hampshire to say that we will be here to serve students this coming academic year,” said Susan Huard, interim chancellor of the community college system, which consists of seven schools.

Four schools make up the University System of New Hampshire: Granite State College, Keene State College, Plymouth State University and the University of New Hampshire.

Surge of testing requests

Some 2,200 people used the state’s new online system to request COVID-19 tests Thursday.

State officials also announced 3 more deaths Thursday and 7 more on Friday, bringing the state’s death toll to 121.

Both days state officials announced slightly more than 100 new identified cases of the disease, bring the number of positive cases close to 3,000 so far.

The state has increased its testing to more than 1,500 people a day, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said, and plans to be “well over 2000 a day in the next week.”

People with COVID-19 symptoms, underlying health conditions, who are over the age of 60, or who are healthcare workers can now request a test through the COVID-19 Testing Registration portal at www.nh.gov/covid19/ or by calling 603-271-5980.

The Community-Based COVID-19 Testing Program includes drive-through testing at six testing locations open 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, in Claremont, Lancaster, Milton, Plymouth, Tamworth and Rochester. Requests for a testing appointment are expected to be scheduled within 24 hours.

Health officials say New Hampshire, like virtually of the United States, needs to greatly increase testing to keep the coronavirus under control – including making tests available to anybody at any time, which currently is not possible because of shortages of material

Anti-body tests for anyone

Granite Staters can now get widespread access to antibody tests for COVID-19, Shibinette said Friday.

The state has entered into a contract with ClearChoiceMD, an urgent care clinic company with locations in Alton, Belmont, Epping, Goffstown, Hooksett, Lebanon, Portsmouth and Tilton.

That contract allows anyone with or without insurance to access the testing, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced.

Anti-body testing identifies whether a person has contracted COVID-19 in the past and developed immunity. Increasing the tests is important; many people who are infected with the novel coronavirus do have symptoms, and many may have already survived the virus without knowing it.

There are no eligibility barriers to an antibody test, nor clear guidelines for who should seek it. Shibinette said it was a personal choice.

Anyone looking to get an anti-body test is advised to contact ClearChoiceMD at their website and set up a telehealth visit.

New details for dentists

New Hampshire is providing new guidance to dental offices, indicating ways to allow elective treatment and surgeries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a three-page outline issued Friday, Gov. Chris Sununu’s office urged dental offices to mandate personal protective equipment like masks for all staff and patients, and to screen staff members and patients as they come in for symptoms.

Cosmetic procedures and ultrasonic scaling are not recommended to be resumed by the state, the guidelines state.

All of the guidelines are voluntary. Dental offices and practices were not shut down in March – they were deemed essential services by the state as part of Sununu’s “stay at home” order. But many have shut down services, citing a risk of exposure or a lack of masks available.

On Friday, Shibinette said she didn’t have information on how many dental practices might have sufficient protective to reopen quickly. But she said that all practices are eligible for access to the state’s stockpile of masks and gowns, currently open to businesses.

Guidelines to reopenwill vary

State officials won’t be drafting specific guidance for every industry.

Doing so would be impractical and amount to “inappropriate micromanagement,” said D.J. Bettencourt, the leader of the governor’s reopening task force said Friday at the close of a two-hour public input session.

While the group is examining specific sectors such as lodging, amusements, sports and religious gatherings, Bettencourt said some industries may fall under the universal guidelines that have been issued for all businesses regarding screening of employees, workplace cleaning and other practices to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

“We are looking to put a list together that we can take to public health and say, ‘We believe these businesses can go forward using the universal guidance documents, and we’ll see what they say,” he said. “The challenge all of us have is that there are such diverse views on how to move forward.”

The task force took dozens of calls Friday, ranging from a father concerned about his daughter’s July wedding to a tattoo artist who said if he can’t open his business in June, he won’t have a business left to run in July.

“We will continue to try to balance getting businesses open in a safe way, guided by public health, and we will do that as quickly as we can,” Bettencourt said.

Sununu last week announced specific guidelines for the reopening of retail stores, golf courses, outdoor restaurant dining and hair salons over the next few weeks.

(Staff writers Ethan DeWitt and David Brooks contributed to this report.)




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