COVID-19 Thursday update: Pandemic peak in NH probably weeks away; insurers waive cost-sharing

  • Courtesy—NH DHHS

Published: 4/9/2020 10:55:50 AM

Although the number of new COVID-19 cases found each day has stabilized in New Hampshire, the pandemic will probably not peak for a couple of weeks, according to the latest state models and data.

In a press briefing Thursday, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said social distancing and stay-at-home orders have helped reduce the effect of the coronavirus.

“The goal is no longer containment, the goal is to slow the spread,” Chan said.

On Thursday, the state reported three more deaths associated with COVID-19, bringing the total to 21 dead. In addition, 31 new cases of coronavirus were identified, bringing the total in New Hampshire to 819. The number of new cases reported each day this week has been lower than the end of last week, leading some to hope that the peak has passed.

Chan downplayed that possibility, however. “The epidemic will last many more weeks,” he said, adding, “Our New Hampshire strategy appears to be working.”

In other details, Chan said all of the people under age 60 who have died had underlying medical and health issues, while the large majority of deaths have been people over 60.

About half of the fatalities have been at nursing and assisted-living facilities. “This is exactly the population that we’re trying to protect,” Chan said.

Insurance waives cost-sharing

With hospitalizations continuing apace, a number of insurers in the Granite State say they’re waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment. That means those who are infected will not face deductibles, coinsurance or co-payments, according to the New Hampshire Insurance Department.

The list includes Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Ambetter by NH Healthy Families, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Tufts Health Plan/Tufts Health Freedom Plan, and United Healthcare, the department said.

On March 10, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order – his first of the crisis – that required that New Hampshire insurers waive the costs of getting COVID-19 tests, including a doctor’s visit to get the test. But the order did not mandate that insurers waive COVID-19 treatment costs be waived, which remains voluntary.

Meanwhile, some Democratic lawmakers are pressing for the Insurance Department to prohibit out of network charges from insurance companies. Those charges could hit an infected patient if they get care from a facility or provider not covered by their insurance.

A letter from Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, of Nashua, and Kevin Cavanaugh, of Manchester as well as Reps. Ed Butler of Hart’s Location and Lucy Weber of Walpole, asks Gov. Chris Sununu to “create a solution” to that potential problem.

The Insurance Department has told lawmakers it is working to find an approach, the letter said.

Survey: Isolating family members is hard

A COVID-19 survey by Dartmouth and UNH founds that just half of the households questioned had been “completely symptom-free during the past four weeks” but that when a person does show symptoms, other family members usually do not isolate them.

“Fewer than 20 percent of households are substantially reducing their exposure to family members with cough or shortness of breath by trying to isolate them in the home,” said Dr. Judy Rees, an associate professor of epidemiology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, who is co-leading the effort with Tracy Keirns, assistant director of the UNH Survey Center. “Isolation isn’t easy in families with children, but in older age groups it’s something to consider if there’s space in the home to do it. Frequent handwashing and cleaning surfaces in the home can also help reduce transmission between family members.”

The online survey was sent to the Granite State Panel, a cohort of nearly 3,400 New Hampshire residents selected randomly over the past year who have agreed to participate in statewide research through the UNH Survey Center. It is not open to the public at this time, although it may be expanded later.

In addition to tracking daily symptoms, the study is gathering other data such as factors associated with household transmissions, how often people practice hand sanitizing and social distancing, how often they leave their homes to do shopping or other activities, and how using supplements like vitamin D and probiotics may influence symptoms.

Unemployment claims soar

More than 36,000 initial unemployment claims were filed in New Hampshire last week, up nearly 5,000 from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. The latest number covers new claims through April 4.

The state has seen more unemployment claims in the last three weeks than in the last three years, said George Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Employment Security.

The department has taken more than 79,000 calls since March 17. Among those pitching in at a call center are members of the New Hampshire National Guard.

Fielding the calls requires a certain mindset, said Senior Airman Connor Martin, 23, a crew chief from the Pease Air National Guard Base.

“You’re going to get yelled at,” he said. “People are upset. People are distraught. But you have to understand that there’s a single mom with two kids on the other end of the line who’s lost her only source of income.”

In Manchester, Lauren Boisvert applied for benefits after going from three jobs to zero in the past two weeks.

Boisvert, 22, had been working at a paint bar and as a substitute teacher for two schools while also finishing her senior year at the Institute of Art and Design at New England College. She had lined up a long-term substitute job that was supposed to start in May, and a summer job at a camp, but those are both uncertain.

“I’m not actively looking right now, I’m just hoping this subsides and I can just go back to my normal jobs,” she said Thursday.

Emergency guardianship

New Hampshire’s circuit court is speeding up the legal process on emergency g uardianship appointments regarding medical decisions for an incapacitated adult, given the anticipated surge of coronavirus cases.

“We anticipate situations where acute care facilities nee d to quickly discharge a patient, who may lack capacity, to another facility or to get emergency medical decisions made for severely compromised patients,” said David King, administrative judge of the circuit court.

King said the usual interval of about 15 days from a petition filing to an expedited final hearing on guardianship appointments may not be appropriate, give the threats posed by the virus, such as extended hospital stays for patients in critical condition. For now, hearings by phone or video can be held over a 48-hour period.

If the petitioner is unable to present sufficient evidence for the judge to make an informed decision, the hearings will be rescheduled, King said.

Protecting homeless

A social service organization plans to use an empty Roman Catholic school in Manchester to house 40 homeless residents during the pandemic.

The move by New Horizons is part of a larger plan to protect residents and staff from the coronavirus at its main 138-bed facility nearby.

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

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