COVID-19 update: More deaths at nursing homes; State Parks remain open to out-of-staters

  • N.H. COVID-19 cases —Courtesy

Published: 4/7/2020 9:33:28 PM

New Hampshire announced five new deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, driven by outbreaks in three residential care facilities, bringing the state’s overall total to 18.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette cited outbreaks at Huntington at Nashua nursing home, Hanover Hill Health Care in Manchester and Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield.

The people in those facilities are high risk, often older and with underlying conditions, Shibinette said.

Hanover Hill saw an outbreak on one floor that resulted in 37 residents and 13 staff infected – and four deaths, Shibinette said. Huntington has seen 19 residents and 11 staff members infected, with four overall deaths.

Crotched Mountain has had three residents and 11 staff people testing positive

Shibinette added that leaders are doing what they can to contain them.

“These long term care facilities or residential facilities have worked very collaboratively with the public health departments in both Manchester and Nashua to contain the virus and minimize the negative impact on their residents,” Shibinette said.

The total number of people infected rose to 788 as of 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, Shibinette said, out of 8,763 tests administered.

Number of new cases lower

Gov. Sununu cautioned at a press conference Wednesday that five days of relatively low figures for new cases of COVID-19 did not mean that the state has passed the peak.

“It is incredibly encouraging, but a couple data points do not make a trend,” Sununu said. “We’re not quite sure where we are in the surge. … We’re encouraged by those numbers but some of our toughest days are still ahead of us. This viral epidemic is real, it’s attacking people and families … Understand we are going to be in this process for a few weeks, possibly a couple more months.”

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 declined every day from Friday through Tuesday, from 81 to fewer than 40, and while it appears to has risen slightly Wednesday it remains lower than late last week.

Sununu said this does not indicate that any change should be made in the state’s approach to closing businesses or encouraging social distance.

“We have to keep it … otherwise we’re going to see another spike, it’ll go up and down,” he said. ” We think we’re doing well, but we loosen up too fast and then we’ll see another spike.”

All thoseout-of-state plates

A growing number of residents have expressed concern about the proliferation of cars and visitors from out of state at New Hampshire’s state parks, urging Sununu to shut the parks down to non-residents.

But the governor pushed back at that suggestion Wednesday. “I cannot keep folks just from Massachusetts or another state out of our parks,” he said. “That is unconstitutional.”

The state is considering limiting parking lots to try to discourage large crowds, Sununu said, something he said might be necessary as the days get warmer.

“But what we unfortunately cannot do is say, well, you don’t have the right license plate and you do,” he said.

“And look, we want all these folks from Massachusetts to come back at some point,” Sununu added. “You know, we’re a tourism state, we love to have their business. Just not now. You’re healthier at home and you’re healthier in your home, back in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut.”

Sununu said the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources had ramped up staffing levels at parks to manage the crowds, and maintained that visitors were respecting social distancing guidelines.

The governor also continued to promote the “home hike challenge”, which encourages residents to find less known trails in their communities rather than head to tourist hotspots on weekends.

As for how much longer the “stay at home” orders in New Hampshire might be extended, the situation is still unclear. Presently, Sununu’s orders expire May 4. But the governor said Wednesday that the state would make a decision with enough time for people to prepare – at least 10 days before the shutdown orders are set to expire.

Sununu praised the efforts Granite Staters have made to socially distance so far.

“It’s the people of the state that deserve all the credit in the world for why we’re not in a situation like other states are,” Sununu said. “Because they’re the ones that took that discipline on in terms of social distancing.”

Delays receiving supplies

Days after praising a shipment of rapid COVID-19 testing devices, Sununu expressed frustration with the federal government for a delay in supplies.

The state has received 15 Abbott testing machines, each of which can turn around a test result in 15 minutes. They were hoped to allow an increase in testing to better isolate outbreaks within the state.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has only supplied 15% of the cartridges that New Hampshire requested to run those machines, Sununu announced.

“You can imagine my frustration in being given great tools in our fight to combat COVID-19 but not being provided the resources needed to take advantage of them at even a fraction of their full capacity,” Sununu said. “What we can use, we will, and we will work to get them deployed quickly.”

Sununu said that he is appealing to federal officials and continuing to pressure them but is not planning on results for days or a week at the earliest.

It’s not the first time that FEMA’s assistance efforts in New Hampshire have come up short. Late last month, Sununu joined the state’s Congressional delegation in criticizing Washington for shipping out faulty personal protective equipment, including expired supplies and 16,600 gloves that were the wrong material for health care settings.

State election plan

State officials will soon discuss the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on state elections, Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday.

Executive Councilor Deborah Pignatelli, D-Nashua, told Sununu she wants to hear from Secretary of State Bill Gardner about the state’s primary elections in September and the November general election, including whether voting by mail is an option.

Sununu said state election law doesn’t fall under the council’s purview.

The calls for clarity come as Democrats and voting rights groups have urged the state to expand absentee voting measures to allow people to vote without going to physical polling places.

The New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights, a subset of the national group America Votes, urged the governor and state leaders to provide “no excuse” absentee voting; allow others beyond family members to deliver ballots; expand absentee ballot deposit sites to police stations and other public areas; and establish online voter registration in the state.

Insurance request

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Wednesday urged the Trump administration to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces during the coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple states have started special enrollment periods, and others are urging the administration to open a similar window for more Americans. The White House has said it would reimburse hospitals that treat uninsured patients for COVID-19, and the massive rescue package signed into law last month set aside $100 billion for hospitals for uncompensated care.

Shaheen, a Democrat, said that approach doesn’t make sense.

“If you’re not going to do something for the right reasons, you should do something because it makes economic sense,” she told reporters. “It doesn’t make sense to take the billions of dollars that are going to keep our rural hospitals afloat and use it to provide health insurance coverage when people can get health insurance coverage on the market.”

Inmates request release

Dale Holloway, accused of shooting a church pastor and bride during a wedding and later attacking his own lawyer, is among inmates asking to be released from jail on house arrest due to health concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Holloway, who requires treatment by inhaler for asthma, has pleaded not guilty to attempted m urder, assault and other charges related to the October shooting at a Pelham church. A hearing on his request is set for April 14.

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

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