By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms can now be tested, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Monday, making him hopeful that “we can have the data we need to move forward” to reopen portions of the state and its economy.
Sununu announced five new drive-in test sites going up this week in Tamworth, Claremont, Lancaster, Plymouth, and Rochester – mostly at National Guard bases – and a mobile unit in addition to existing testing facilities at 11 ConvenientMD sites.
It is great news, said Lori Shibinette, the state commissioner of Health and Human Services.
Shibinette also announced three new outbreaks at extended-care facilities.
– Birch Hill in Manchester had seven residents and four staff testing positive for COVID-19
– Crestwood Center in Milford had 14 residents and four staff testing positive.
– Salemhaven in Salem had nine residents and two staff members testing positive.
Since the outbreak of this highly transmittable virus in early March, primary care providers could not allow everyone who called them to be tested because of a lack of supplies and equipment. Testing was focused on the most vulnerable.
About two weeks ago the state was testing several hundred people a day but it jumped last week to 450 a day, said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist.
The state can now test 1,000 people a day, and Sununu said he would continue to “move the goal post” to 1,500 a day and further to ensure testing can help slow the virus and catch it quickly to prevent community spread. The state reported no new deaths on Monday, but a few new outbreaks at extended-care facilities.
Sununu called it “incredibly irresponsible” of people to tell him to “Just open things up.”
He said the state will gather more data from testing and take a few extra days to “get it right off the bat. Yes, we are not rushing things,” noting that neighboring Massachusetts, with one of the worst outbreaks in the country with almost 50,000 cases, is at our border.
Sununu said New Hampshire is essentially a suburb of Boston and that if the state hadn’t taken quick action to go to distance learning and stay-at-home orders, it could have been far worse than where we are with the statistics New Hampshire has.
He said to open up New Hampshire with its tourism, hotels, attractions, and restaurants is to invite disaster from Massachusetts and “enticing them,” which could create a COVID-19 surge here.
“The economic impact of this crisis is not going to go away,” Sununu said.
Hotels, restaurants, and travel and tourism are the hardest to open, he conceded, but other areas of the economy such as some hospital procedures and some retail might be easier to return.
Sununu said the May 4 stay-at-home order is not likely to be lifted but he said he would likely have more information later this week informed by advisory committees which may allow for some loosening of the existing provisions.
The fact that the state has been able to ramp up testing is largely due to commercial testing facilities which have added capacity, Sununu said.
Sununu said there needs to be at least 14 days of trending good news to start to consider lifting some of the executive orders limiting people’s work, travel, and business.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to be tested near their home, ” Sununu said, in announcing the five new test sites.
He said people will still require a provider referral but will be open eight hours a day with staffing help from the National Guard, many of whom are emergency medical technicians.
People will be able to stay in their cars and get tested and the contact tracing information taken at these sites, which could be open by Wednesday with the help of the National Guard, Sununu said.
Shibinette announced 75 new COVID-19 cases Monday with 1,938 people testing positive in the state. The state has seen 60 deaths to the virus but no new deaths were announced on Monday.
In total, over 18,200 have been tested in a population of 1.3 million. The current hospital bed use is between 90 and 100 each day. This was the second day in a row without reported death.
On Saturday, six of the seven deaths were associated with residents of long term facilities, Shibinette acknowledged.
ConvenientMD has partnered with the state in 11 locations to do testing and is focusing on long-term care facilities staffing with over 2,000 staff tested in the last 10 days or so, Shibinette said. Those without insurance can get testing as well, she said.
“Any residents with any symptoms now….even with mild ones we’re saying to call your primary care physician….we will call you back, set up your appointment to the place nearest you,” Shibinette said.