COVID Monday update: All ‘in-person contact’ forbidden at N.H. courts; surfers irk police 

  • Squad cars are arranged in the shape of a heart in the parking lot of Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia on Sunday. The department created the display to show support and appreciation for the hospital’s health care workers and staff. Laconia Police Department, via AP

  • Surfers distance themselves as they wait for the next wave off Bass Beach in Rye, N.H., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. With concerns over the spread of a virus outbreak, officials have recommended that the public refrain from activities where people have close contact. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 4/27/2020 7:52:00 AM

All proceedings in New Hampshire courts now have to take place via “remote means that do not involve in-person contact,” the latest restriction imposed in the face of COVID-19.

The order from New Hampshire Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks  “encourages judges and clerks to conduct court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other remote means. … The New Hampshire Courts will remain open on a restricted basis but clerk’s offices will not be open to the general public.”

People will not have in-person access to view files or make copies at the courthouses but must request files through the e-filing portal or by calling the Information Center at 855-212-1234. Courthouses will remain open for scheduled hearings or for matters requiring emergency relief. 

Circuit, Superior and Supreme Courts all have drop boxes for filing pleadings that are available either outside or in the entranceway of all court facilities.

Some exceptions exist, the order said, including proceedings to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants; those to protect the public from a substantial threat of serious harm posed by the conduct of an attorney or judge; proceedings related to petitions for temporary emergency relief or the COVID-19 public health emergency.

More testing sites

Five more testing sites are being established, mostly in Northern New Hampshire, that will be staffed in part by National Guard soldiers and airmen.

The sites, in Claremont, Lancaster, Plymouth, Tamworth and Rochester, will be open eight hours a day, seven days a week. A referral from a physician or medical provider will be required.

Gov. Sununu announced the sites at Monday’s press briefing on COVID-19, at which he reiterated that no quick opening of the state is going to happen partly because of concern about infection coming north from eastern Massachusetts.

“We’re going to be dealing with COVID not for two months but possibly for the nest 15 to 20 months,” he said. “A year from now, we’re not going to be worried about whether we took an extra week, or 10 days, to open up.”

Case numbers keep rising

The average of COVID-19 cases confirmed in New Hampshire continues to edge up, although it may not be due to more disease but is probably a reflection of increased testing.

With 69 cases on Saturday,  77 on Sunday and 75 on Monday the five-day moving average of confirmed COVID-19 in New Hampshire – a measure that smooths out day-to-day irregularities – hit a new high this weekend of 77. Officials said late last week that testing for the disease has roughly doubled in New Hampshire over the past week, meaning more cases are being found.

Over the weekend, the state reported the most deaths in a single day due to COVID-19, all in people over the age of 60. The seven deaths brought the total number to 60.

Surf somewhere else

Police in Rye are advising surfers to catch a wave elsewhere or face the prospective of a fine.

A group of surfers as large as 10 has largely ignored an order closing beaches along the New Hampshire coast due to the outbreak.

Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh said his officers are weary of chasing surfers off.

Many are parking in church lots and on private property, so Walsh is seeking permission from these property owners to ticket and tow the vehicles. Police may also start issuing tickets to surfers for trespassing on the beach.

“Most certainly if they are in the water, it gives the impression that the beaches are open. People are going to come and ignore the closed signs,” Walsh said, adding that surfers are arguing the ocean is not part of the beach. “It’s a selfish thing. ... They are not supporting the community.”

Naming those with virus

The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is raising concerns about the state providing first responders with the names of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Working with the attorney general’s office, the Department of Health and Human Services and many dispatch centers have agreed to disclose such information to law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and public health providers.

State officials say the release is permitted under a provision of the federal health privacy law that allows information to be disclosed for the greater benefit of protecting public health. The information is the minimum necessary to allow first responders to limit their potential exposure to the virus. The agreement requires the destruction of the information after 21 days.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU, said it is alarming that private medical information is being shared without people’s consent.

“As the ACLU has said during this pandemic and in the past, we must be extremely cautious about abandoning privacy rights during times of crises, particularly given that history says we may not regain those rights later,” she said.

Star Island won’t open

Star Island, the seasonal resort at the Isles of Shoals, will not open in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Star Island Corp., the nonprofit that hosts summer conferences there and manages the only accommodations open to the public at the isles, announced Monday that the 46-acre island off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine will be closed to the public and all programming postponed to 2021.

“We cannot envision a scenario in which it would be possible to safely convene large groups of people on the island at any point this summer,” Watts told Seacoast Online.

Star Island welcomes more than 18,000 conference guests, student groups, and visitors from all over the country and participate in educational, artistic, spiritual and family programs.

This marks the first time in over 100 years that Star Island will not be open except of a stint during World War II.

Watts said the island will also be closed to day visitors and boaters who have traditionally stopped by for picnics and tours of Oceanic Hotel, which opened in the 1870s.

State surveys businesses

The Department of Business and Economic Affairs is conducting a confidential survey of state businesses, to “help us as we work on ways to help your business and our economy recover in the weeks and months to come.”

The survey asks such things as percentage of revenue loss due to the shutdown and revenue outlook in the coming months, amount of time the owner anticipates it will take to reopen, and the likelihood they would participate in state loan programs. The survey can be seen online at

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

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, 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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