By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER – Citing what he called the first community transmission of the COVID-19 virus in New Hampshire, Manchester’s school superintendent announced closing the city’s public schools for the next two weeks.
Also, the New Hampshire Legislature has suspended all legislative activities for at least one week from March 16 to 20 as state and local officials decide what actions to take to protect people from the Coronavirus.
The State House will be closed to legislative members and staff and visitors but remain open for governmental operations until further notice. Gov. Chris Sununu will hold a news conference on Sunday.
At a news conference including Mayor Joyce Craig and other city officials Saturday, Superintendent John Goldhardt said he waited as long as he could to make the call, but decided to cancel school for at least the next two weeks and shift to a distance learning situation to reduce the chance for the virus to spread.
A number of other schools have announced plans to not hold school, at least on Monday, while the state deals with the global pandemic which has so far included seven positive cases in New Hampshire.
Nashua schools are closed from Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 20. Updates can be obtained at nashua.edu.
Goldhardt said he made his decision in consultation with the Manchester Department of Health and said news of the state’s first community transmission was the reason for the decision.
Mayor Craig also noted that the city is going to “reconfigure city operations,” with the goal of reducing social contact.
While the buses will run and trash will be collected, Craig said the library will be open but will cancel all events and the Cashin Senior Center will be closed as of Monday.
Craig said the Board of Mayor and Alderman will transition to an online platform for their meetings.
She said Manchester residents who have a fever of 100.4 or higher and respiratory symptoms should call their doctor and if they live in the city and do not have a doctor they should call 668-1547 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. or dial 2-1-1.
Not everyone who has symptoms will be tested, Craig stressed.
Goldhardt acknowledged that many of the city’s children live in poverty and do not have access to computers or breakfast and lunch services that the school provides.
Over the weekend, parents should expect to get information about how this will be handled and he said he felt confident that the city can deal with it.
The press conference was carried on Facebook live by WMUR.TV. which on its website has listings of schools and other closings for this weekend and going forward.
The news comes the day after state officials confirmed that a woman who lives in Rockingham County has tested positive for the virus.
She was at the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicle office in Manchester from March 2 to 5 and on March 10 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Officials haven’t said whether she worked there, but were reaching out to anyone who had contact with her.
The state’s listing of the number of people it is monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 jumped from 275 to 425 from Friday to Saturday and there are still more than 30 test results that are pending, according to the Department of Health and Human Services website.
There are three men in Rockingham County who have tested positive and three in Grafton County who have also tested positive. Those men had either been to Italy or had contact with someone who had been to Italy, according to state officials.
There was no information provided on how or where the woman from Rockingham County who was at the Manchester DMV contracted the virus. Manchester is in Hillsborough County.
On Friday, prior to the announcement of the seventh case, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order declaring a State of Emergency from COVID-19.
It allows him the flexibility to make decisions for the health and safety of the state.
“We are taking this very seriously,” said Sununu at a news conference Friday, while at the time saying the overall risk to the state is “low.”
“This is really a time for calm,” Sununu stressed.
The order lasts for 21 days. More than 30 other states have already taken similar emergency measures.
Sununu said he is not calling for the cancellation of schools, town meetings, events or legislative deliberations but he is prohibiting people from visiting nursing homes to protect the most vulnerable to this virus, the elderly. The prohibition goes into effect Sunday at 11:59 p.m.
The order also includes the following
* All school-sponsored trips out of state are now suspended.
* All non-essential state and municipal travel are banned.
* Necessary state licensing of individuals is now waived for those who come into the state and help.
* The order allows Sununu to “re-purpose” state employees for tasks necessary to address the impacts of COVID-19.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said the state has adequate testing supplies and there will be 500 more additional tests expected to arrive next week.
In addition to being able to call 2-1-1 to get information the state has a new website https://www.nh.gov/covid19/
Chan said the state needs a community response to the virus and people need to work together with more resources and advice from the state.