By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Even though Gov. Chris Sununu and public health officials say New Hampshire is at the lowest level of concern for the spread of the Covid-19 virus, at least one sporting event planned in the next week will take place without an audience, and some college students on spring break aren’t sure yet if they will return to classes when their break is over.
Sununu said New Hampshire’s risk is still low due to the fact there has been no sign of community spread, and he said there is no reason to cancel public events.
But the organizers of Friday’s “Battle of the Badges” hockey championship at the SNHU Arena in Manchester plan to hold the event without spectators. Usually thousands attend the fundraiser for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, a contest between state fire and police officers, but this year organizers announced the stands will remain empty due to coronavirus precautions.
College students who are now on spring break or about to go on spring break are being advised to plan for the possibility that they may be continuing their studies remotely.
One report, which could not be confirmed by the President’s Office Wednesday afternoon, indicated that SNHU has told their students, now on spring break, that they should not return to school prior to March 19, out of concern for the spread of the virus.
Epping middle and high schools canceled classes Wednesday after a voter told town meeting officials he was going home to quarantine himself. Officials who investigated said the diagnosis was the flu, not COVID-19.
Beth Daly, incident commander for COVID-19 in the state, and bureau chief for infectious diseases, said, “Broadly, we have not made any recommendations for events to be canceled. She suggested event planners visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for planning advice, as it is constantly changing.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said recommendations are changing daily throughout the country, but New Hampshire remains at a low level of risk.
More than 118,000 Covid-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with more than 1,000 in the United States. Five of those cases are located in New Hampshire but unlike other areas of the world, the cases in New Hampshire have not been transmitted within the community. Two have been due to travel in Italy, and the other three have been traced to contact with people who traveled to Italy.
More than 200 people in New Hampshire are being monitored at home for symptoms after being exposed. Two legal orders, one ordering a person to isolate and another to self-quarantine, have been issued. Those who violate the orders face a criminal penalty for leaving their homes before the 14-day period has passed.
The governor urged people to call 271-4496 at any time to have their questions answered.
Chan said about 80 people have been tested, and the state has about 100 test kits remaining. More test kits are expected from the Centers for Disease Control.
Chan said the state is aware of worldwide shortages of equipment related to the virus, but his office is working with state and local providers to ensure there is continued adequate supply in the state.
He suggested those thinking of travel need to be aware that they may face difficulties, and the situation may change upon their return.
Officials urged schools and event planners to reach out to them before canceling events “because we want to have that consultation with you,” Daly said.
Chan urged people to remain calm, keep washing their hands often, and keep a safe distance in public. He also advised that they avoid going anywhere if they feel sick.
Late on Tuesday, the commissioners of state Education, Insurance, and Health and Human Services departments and leaders in the medical community addressed a joint gathering of several senate committees on the state’s preparedness to deal with COVID-19.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said communication has ramped up since the first of the month, and there is now almost daily contact between his office and all schools.
He said as many as 200 school trips are coming up across the state, and a number of questions have arisen about what to do.
He said the matter is fluid, and decisions are being made using CDC guidelines, which are c hanging on a daily basis. He said a number of questions on school closings have also emerged.
Hollis/Brookline had some uncertainty about some late-day information about the possible exposure of an individual and closed the school for one day out of an abundance of caution. Newmarket also closed schools, but those schools are now open.
Concern for disruption to education must be weighed against health concerns, he said and right now the state is at low risk.
If schools do close, Edelblut said the plan will be to work with schools for remote instruction.
“We need to envelop the concept of remote support,” he said.
Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, asked about younger children staying home alone. Edelblut said this is another area of concern without clear answers, but discussions are underway.
He said options include community resources like local libraries or other community partners such as YMCAs.
“I won’t say, senator, we have all the answers to that,” he said. “We are still walking through this.”
Officials for superintendents and school boards told senators a daily briefing would be helpful, said Dr. Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.