COVID update: Controversial drug to be tested in N.H. hospitals, Concord testing site opens

  • In this image provided Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, Respiratory Care Practitioner Craig Skirvin, wears a face shield, Friday, May 1, 2020, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center;s Medical Intensive Care Unit, where it cares for COVID-19 patients in Lebanon, N.H. The hospital had extra face shields but needed hand sanitizer, so it swapped with another hospital on one of several new online matchmaking platforms that enable hospitals to swap supplies or get donations of them to quickly... MARK L. WASHBURN

Published: 5/12/2020 7:42:09 AM

Concord is getting a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility Wednesday, open to all members of the public with a qualifying symptom or condition.

The state’s Department of a Health and Human Services will staff the new testing site in a parking lot on 28 Stickney Avenue, just before the U-Haul center. 

The site will be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Those eligible to get a test include anyone over 60 years old, anyone who has an underlying health condition, or anyone with at least one symptom of COVID-19, including a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, chills, shaking, sore throat, headache and a loss of taste or smell. 

Health care workers can also use the new testing site.

To sign up for a test, residents may the state’s online portal at https://prd.blogs.nh.gov/dos/hsem/?page_id=8479, call 603-271-5980, or go through an existing health provider. Testing is free for all and health insurance is not necessary. 

Concord’s site is one of seven state-run drive thru locations across the state, including in Claremont, Lancaster, Milford, Plymouth, Tamworth and Rochester.

Concord Hospital has also overseen a drive-thru site, but they have prioritized hospital staff and patients. 

Remdesivir comingto New Hampshire

A dozen hospitals in New Hampshire are receiving small supplies of the drug remdesivir to help study and see if, and how well, it can alleviate symptoms of COVID-19.

The antiviral drug is made by California-based pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. The FDA approved the drug for emergency use on May 1. It was previous studied for use on SARS and MERS, two other coronavirus diseases, but never approved for use.

In a document released Sunday, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said that it was distributing its initial supply for remdesivir to hospitals based on COVID-19 case counts in particular areas.

A spokesman for DHHS said Tuesday that the drug had arrived to the state and that specific allocations to hospitals were still being determined. 

While not officially approved, the drug has been allowed by DHHS to be used on children and adults who are severely suffering from COVID-19, including anyone with an oxygen saturation rate of less than 94%. 

Last week, the federal government said it will obtain get roughly 40% of Gilead’s global donation of 1.5 million doses and distribute it to hospitals around the country for treatment and testing.

The numbers

The five-day running average of new cases in New Hampshire has stabilized over the past week, averaging between 84 and 89, although it shows no sign of declining.

Through Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services says 3,160 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in New Hampshire. About 4% of those have been fatal, almost all involving people over 60 and many in residential or assisted-living facilities. About 40% of cases have recovered.

About 10% of all tests have been positive.

The state also identified two new outbreaks in long-term care facilities: one at the Hillsborough County Nursing Home in Goffstown, with positive COVID-19 results among 12 patients and two staff, and another at Community Resources for Justice, where three staff members and 11 patients have tested positive. 

Lawmakers divvy up funds

Lawmakers on a key advisory committee approved a spending proposal Monday for the first portion of New Hampshire’s $1.25 billion stimulus package, providing a potential bipartisan way forward.

Among the recommended allocations from the eight-member panel: $100 million for hospitals, $100 million for business relief, $35 million to nonprofits, and $25 million to child care providers. 

In all, the committee made recommendations for $345 million of the $1.2 billion. All of the money, which came to the state through the CARES Act, passed in March, must be spent by December, according to guidelines from the U.S. Treasury Department. 

At his own direction, Gov. Chris Sununu has already spent $255 million of the money so far. 

The committee – which has been meeting remotely three times a week and hearing from stakeholders – had an initial draft plan last week, but made some changes on Monday. 

In final deliberations Monday, Sens. Chuck Morse and Lou D’Allesandro agreed to increase the allocation for nonprofits from $15 million to $30 million. That amount would still be only about 20% of what the charities asked for, Morse noted. 

The committee also agreed to send out $100 million of the federal money to hospitals in the form of grants – not loans. New Hampshire currently has a $50 million loan fund provided by state money. About half of that money has gone out to about 59 facilities in loans; the governor has the option to turn any of them into grants at a later time.

And the committee recommended $40 million in grants to non-hospital health care facilities and $20 million to long-term care facilities.

The advisory panel agreed to put off major discussions on assistance to the state’s unemployment fund as well funding for the state’s university system, which recently announced a plan to re-open in the fall. Ultimately, they recommended setting aside an initial $10 million for the University System of New Hampshire and an additional $5 million for private colleges. 

All recommendations by the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery legislative advisory committee and its sister committee – comprised of stakeholders – are advisory only. Sununu has the final say in deciding allocations, though a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers is challenging that and pressing to have it shared with the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, controlled by Democrats. That lawsuit is proceeding in Hillsborough Superior Court. 

Fauci answers Hassan

By now it’s clear: New Hampshire’s COVID-19 epidemic is – more than in any other state – rooted in its nursing homes. A sweeping majority of deaths here have taken place at long term care facilities, and two new outbreaks at facilities were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services this week.  

To Anthony Fauci, the nation’s most visible epidemiologist, dealing with that reality requires a new long term approach. Responding  to questions from Sen. Maggie Hassan at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee hearing Tuesday, Fauci said that while testing is important, monitoring patients will be key to fighting the virus in the months ahead. 

“General testing for all I think is a good start,” Fauci said. “But when you look where you're going to go in the future, there has to be a considerable degree of surveillance capability.”

Fauci was addressing a panel of senators from his home Tuesday, in his first public appearance before Congress since March. Hassan, a Democrat and member of the HELP committee, invoked New Hampshire's situation in her question to Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

“We all know people who have lost a friend or a family member in nursing homes, and the grief compounded by the fact that people couldn’t be at their loved one’s bedside if they died,” she said. 

But Fauci cautioned that merely increasing testing was not enough.

“In the long range, we will have to have infection control capabilities in nursing homes that are really pristine, and really unassailable,” Fauci said. “We have to do the kinds of surveillance, and have to have the capability of when you identify someone, you get them out of that particular environment so that they don’t spread the infection throughout.”

Nursing homes should also develop long term approaches to limiting visitors and maintaining screening of staff and other outsiders to the facilities, Fauci added. 

The White House recommended Monday that all nursing home patients across the country be tested “within next two weeks as well as the staff.” Those comments came from White House coronavirus taskforce coordinator Deborah Birx in a recording of a call to governors Monday obtained by the Associated Press. 

Right now, New Hampshire has enough materials to test all of its long term care residents, DHHS spokesman Jake Leon said Tuesday. DHHS staff have aleready been running mobile test sites and testing all residents   and staff at nursing homes that have experienced outbreaks. 

But the state does not yet have a clear timeline on when testing at all facilities might happen. 


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of 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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