By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced 19 more deaths due to COVID-19 Wednesday and said all were associated with long-term care facilities. That brings total COVID-19 deaths to 111 with 84 of them linked to long-term care.
Shibinette made the statement at Gov. Chris Sununu’s afternoon press conference in which he announced greatly expanding testing in nursing homes and the general population.
The details of expanded testing came a day after the state released data for the first time that showed 77 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire were associated with long-term care facilities, the highest percentage in the country.
And after weeks of calls from state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a gubernatorial candidate, to test all nursing home residents and staff on an ongoing basis.
Feltes has also called for Sununu to end the contract with ConvenientMD, saying it wasn’t doing the job.
Sununu said starting Thursday, anyone can self-attest that they need a test without a doctor’s referral and set up an appointment online to get one at any of the five mobile testing sites in Claremont, Tamworth, Rochester, Plymouth, and Lancaster. There will be no financial barrier to getting the test, he said.
A new portal will be set up on NH.Gov and individuals can choose a date and time to get tested.
“This allows anyone in the state to sign up for a test,” Sununu said.
People would self-attest that they have one of the symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or are older than 60, a healthcare worker or suffer from some chronic illness, he said.
“This is an important tool as we go forward,” Sununu said.
Shibinette said the spread of COVID-19 unfolded differently in New Hampshire than other states that saw more of a surge in community-based transmission and deaths.
To date, the state has tested 1,000 nursing home residents and 5,000 long-term care workers, Shibinette said.
But going forward all nursing home residents and staff will be tested on an ongoing basis, she said.
The testing supplies arrived on Monday and Shibinette said the state has validated a less invasive nasal test that will make it more comfortable.
Every long-term care facility will receive supplies in the coming two weeks to test all nursing home residents, Shibinette said.
The tests will be conducted by nursing home staff and sent to the state lab for results.
“We will do a baseline test on all residents who have not tested positive for COVID-19,” Shibinette said.
After that, the plan is to test 10 percent of the patients in 10 percent of the facilities on an ongoing basis.
Nursing home staff testing will be the “next area we’d like to improve,” Shibinette said.
“Testing once isn’t enough,” Shibinette said.
So mobile teams will test staff every seven to 10 days. The teams will include members of the National Guard, other partners and ConvenientMD, she said.
“Making sure staff have ongoing and regular testing is really, really important,” Shibinette said.
Staff members can also get a test whenever they want at the mobile units, she said.
Feltes said: “Today’s announcement is a good step, though unfortunate Gov. Sununu didn’t adopt this weeks ago, because families may not have lost loved ones and we might not be in as dire of a situation as we now face.”
Sununu takes questions from reporters remotely at the end of the news conferences. He dismissed InDepthNH.org’s question about Feltes’ call to end the contract with ConvenientMD, asking if it was because its co-founder is a political donor.
“I’m not going to respond to any of that politically motivated nonsense,” Sununu said.