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COVID Thursday update: Concord community garden to reopen, state sees shortage of medical masks

  • DHHS—Courtesy

  • A Buddha sits on a stake in a garden plot at the Sycamore Community Gardens at NHTI in Concord earlier this week. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Bishnu Das of Concord weeds in the lettuce plot she works at Sycamore Community Garden last summer. Monitor file

Published: 5/21/2020 7:49:29 AM

After weeks of a relatively stable supply, New Hampshire is facing a new shortage this week: N95 masks.

State officials are working to iron out supply chains and find a stable source for the heavy-duty masks. Last week, two orders for the state were canceled, causing a new squeeze.

“It’s definitely our limiting factor right now, N95s,” said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The masks have become staple pieces of equipment for frontline health care workers. The name “N95” refers to any respirator determined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that filters out at least 95% of air particles.

That makes the masks helpful to prevent infections of COVID-19, but it’s not always effective because the coronavirus is smaller in diameter than the mask can filter, meaning it can’t keep out all of the virus.

Typically, the masks take the form of thick, diamond-shaped respirators with a reinforced mesh design.

The state has put orders in for more masks. “It’s just a matter of when they’re coming,” Shibiette noted.

The shortage comes as New Hampshire has struggled to maintain consistency in its procurement of protective equipment. Last week’s cancellation underscored the need to double-up on orders, Shibinette said.

“That’s one of the reasons why, you know, you make multiple orders,” she said. “And oftentimes if you put four orders in, two will get either backordered or canceled, and two will come in.”

For weeks, New Hampshire has received major shipments of masks and medical equipment from China, courtesy of business connections by Manchester medical tech mogul Dean Kamen. But state officials jostling to get New Hampshire to the front of the line for personal protective equipment (PPE) are facing a constantly shifting environment. One week, gowns may be in short supply; the next, a certain type of mask for health care professionals,

“The limiting factor for PPE has kind of rotated between surgical masks right up front, and then, you know, we worked really hard and got 10 million of them and that was great,” said Shibinette. “And then we rotated into gowns and it became a real big issue. And now we’re at N95s.”

Community garden reopens

Concord is going to open the Sycamore Community Garden, which has 168 plots on almost 2 acres on the NHTI campus.

Community gardens were labeled as essential services under the state’s lockdown orders and other local community gardens were allowed to open, including one that is owned and operated by the state off of Clinton Street in Concord.

Sycamore Garden couldn’t open because NHTI was turned into an Alternative Care Site for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients, which shut down the site to outsiders. That surge hasn’t happened, however, and NHTI says it has reached agreements with the city’s public health department and the Sycamore Garden board to reopen.

The major difference is that 20-30 plots throughout the site will be left empty to lessen crowding, and plots will divided into those that can be visited on even-numbered days, and those that can be visited on odd-numbered days.

The garden, which has been in operation since 2009, serves low-income families in the area, particularly new Americans.

Busniess relief applications bustling

Days after Gov. Chris Sununu announced a new $400 relief fund for New Hampshire small businesses, applications are flying.

The state had received more than 5,000 applications for the new Main Street Relief Fund as of Wednesday, Sununu announced at a press conference. That fund, filled from New Hampshire’s $1.2 billion federal stimulus package delivered last month, allows all state businesses with under $20 million in annual revenue to apply for relief.

The state is accepting applications until Friday, May 29. The applications require businesses to list basic details like annual revenue, as well as whether they’ve received other assistance such as federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. Based on the response and the need from business to business, the state will draw up a formula to distribute the money all at once, Sununu said.

The program drew scrutiny from some Executive Councilors on Wednesday, however. Councilor Deb Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat, asked how the state chose the $20 million revenue cap, expressing concern that the bulk of the aid money could end up with larger companies at the expense of Main Street businesses.

Sununu said that the $20 million annual revenue cap was just an upper limit and could be lowered depending on the assessed need.

And he added that because all eligible applicants were going to get a share of the $400 million based on the formula, no qualifying business large or small would be denied a portion. How big or meaningful a portion the businesses receive will be up to the formula set by the state.

The governor also said that the companies would be audited by the Department of Revenue Administration to ensure that they are properly spending the funds, responding to a concern raised by Pignatelli.

Dislodging lodging

New Hampshire is considering a slightly different approach than its neighbors when it comes to allowing out-of-state residents back in its hotels and other lodging establishments.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such accommodations would be limited to New Hampshire residents or out-of-staters who have quarantined at home for 14 days before arrival, according to a proposal submitted Thursday to the Economic Reopening Task Force.

In Vermont, hotels and other lodging will open May 22 to Vermont residents and those who have quarantined in Vermont for 14 days, with the quarantine requirements removed on June 15. Similarly, Maine lodging will open June 1 for Maine residents and out-of-staters who quarantine in Maine. That date originally had been July 1 but the restrictions were later loosened.

The proposal under consideration in New Hampshire would be an update to recommendations approved by the task force on May 12. Those recommendations included a May 22 opening date, but public health officials and Sununu haven’t acted on them yet.

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




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