By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Six new deaths and 50 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in New Hampshire on Wednesday and two new outbreaks in nursing homes were reported in Franklin and Manchester.
In all, 66 people have died and 2,054 residents have tested positive, said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, at a news conference Wednesday. Now, over 19,800 individuals have been tested.
The two new outbreaks at long-term care facilities are at Hackett Hill in Manchester where 22 residents and two staff have tested positive for COVID-19, and at Mountain Ridge Nursing Home in Franklin where 13 residents and two staff have tested positive, Shibinette said.
Gov. Chris Sununu said he is pleased that the state has dramatically ramped up its testing capacity.
“We are seeing some positive trends,” Sununu said. “The physical distancing works and sets New Hampshire apart,” Sununu said, thanking residents for adhering to stay-at-home orders.
Capacity for more testing has gone up dramatically this week with five new drive-up facilities and a mobile unit opening Wednesday. In total, they have the potential of handling as many as 500 more tests a day, in addition to the state’s current capacity of over 1,000 a day.
Testing is accessible now to anyone in the state who has symptoms of a cough or fever at National Guard armory parking lots in Lancaster, Plymouth, and Rochester, at the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Tamworth and at the Claremont Elementary school, Sununu said.
The new facilities will be available to patients with a health-care provider referral seven days a week for eight hours a day.
Sununu said he plans to make an announcement Friday afternoon on how to open portions of the state’s economy, but he said it is not likely that it will be done on a regional or county basis. He said previously that some of the hardest areas to open will be hotels, and sit-down, eat-in restaurants.
Sununu will be receiving initial recommendations from an advisory committee which plans to meet Thursday and he said he will have a public announcement Friday afternoon.
Sununu said the state is coming close to having 14 consecutive days of improved data and hospitalizations have remained fairly constant at about 100 people a day. The state has a stay-at-home order set to expire May 4.
He said his plan will be “smart and phased” with the “health first,” approach focused on not allowing anything to overwhelm hospitals and their capacity to treat people. He stressed that he wants to “minimize the run on the health-care system. Everything we do is about that.”
A couple of data trends he will use to flex open, he said, is the percent of positive cases of COVID-19 found. He said he would be looking at a three-day rolling average.
“It is on a general downward trend,” Sununu said. Also, hospitalization rates are key. The daily census there is also a determinant factor to opening up the economy and those rates have been stable.
The governor addressed an area of federal funding through the CARES Act which is now being used to help protect the homeless across the state and their caregivers. He called them “very vulnerable citizens” to this pandemic.
He announced that $3 million is being released to help shelters, individuals and care providers to help with shelter staff stipends, food, and efforts to support permanent housing.
Shibinette said about five homeless individuals have tested positive for the virus and more who may have close contact with them or others with COVID-19 are being quarantined at facilities in Laconia, Dover, and hotels in southern New Hampshire.
Manchester city officials confirmed Tuesday that the governor had released funds to allow for port-a-toilets, and water, fencing, and other supplies needed to support homeless encampments at locations in Manchester. Sununu said Manchester asked for help and that other communities with homeless challenges should also reach out to get the help that meets their needs.
“It’s a big part of what the CARES Act is for,” and New Hampshire has received $1.25 billion and is spending that money now, immediately, he said, to address impacts of COVID-19.
Shibinette said the state has actually done similar things in other communities before. It is just, “Manchester is the most visible. But we have helped other communities,” with port-a-toilets and food delivery.
She said the Manchester Health Department and New Horizons shelter “have done a great job….to really take care of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and separating populations to keep people from getting sick.
She said it took a couple of weeks to solidify a plan for Manchester but that happened this week and they are “doing a pretty good job with not a great situation.” Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield said Tuesday that the state has been using the Dube Building at the Laconia State School to house homeless in quarantine and the number of issues has been “zero” and the numbers there have been very low.