By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – While the state reported no new deaths but 39 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu was focused at his press briefing on the recent weekend of violence around the country.
Sununu said it is time now to prepare for a different threat after the weekend of rioting, and looting across the nation related to racial injustice.
“Be safe” has another meaning now, in addition to the novel coronavirus which has killed 245 in New Hampshire, Sununu said.
Sununu called on residents to watch social media for words that might incite violence and noted he has been meeting with state police, local law enforcement, and the National Guard – already deployed to respond to the novel coronavirus – to be ready for any potential for rioting, looting, and violence in the state.
“Unfortunately, our job is to plan for the worst,” Sununu said. “We are going to be prepared.”
He did not specifically address reports on social media of people reportedly coming into Nashua and Manchester with deliveries of bricks to be used by rioters.
Instead, his message was of unity and communication to head off violence.
“We understand these are trying times….for a variety of reasons,” Sununu said. “But if we stay together, we stay strong.”
Although it did not meet his current rules for gatherings of 10 or fewer to prevent the spread of the virus, Sununu said he called organizers to support the rally in Manchester that drew over 1,000 people Saturday to express part of the national outrage in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
Sununu said he also supports other events planned or has already occurred in Dover, Manchester, and Hampton and he has been talking with other governors who are sharing their experiences with what has worked and has not worked.
The fellow Republican dismissed the words of President Donald Trump on a call with governors calling for aggressive action against protesters as simply “Washington rhetoric.” Sununu said that he does not support “dominating” protesters, adding that was not constructive.
“The president’s rhetoric is the president’s rhetoric,” Sununu said. Pressed by reporter Adam Sexton of WMUR whether Sununu thought such rhetoric was appropriate for a president in a time of crisis, Sununu said speaking for himself: “No. I don’t think anyone needs to be dominated. If anything, here in New Hampshire working together in a positive and constructive and peaceful way is a pathway to success.” But if violence breaks out, “we are going to deal with it.”
“I try to stay very positive,” Sununu said.
He urged the public if you “see something” on the dark web or in social media that is attempting to incite violence, “say something,” to law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the state continues to navigate its way through a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted people of color in the Granite State. But it overwhelmingly has impacted people who are confined to living in a nursing home.
Sununu said he has created a task force to look at the reasons why African Americans here are more impacted by COVID-19 and he said he wants a continued dialogue to address issues of inequality.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said there are now 6.2 million cases of COVID-19 globally, 1.8 million in the United States alone and in New Hampshire, 4,685 over the last few months.
On Monday, there were five additional people who required hospitalization and as of May 30, 141 people have had to be cared for in an intensive care unit at a hospital to date.
Of the 245 deaths, 202 or almost 83 percent have been among those who were in “clusters” of outbreaks, many of which have been in long-term care settings. Today, there were no new clusters – defined as more than three cases in one place – reported, officials said.
There have now been 74,000 of the state’s 1.3 million residents tested for the virus, and now anyone can get a test without cost, officials said.
Chan said the state is testing about 1,800 a day on average and about 4 to 5 percent are usually testing positive for the virus.
Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the state now has tested all of its nursing home patients and staff and is beginning a new wave of testing of them on average every 10 days to get a better picture of what is happening in nursing homes with hopes of stopping it at the door.
She said the data will begin to roll out this week on the new testing protocol in a new effort to test 10 percent on average, every 10 days.
While New Hampshire has some of the highest percentages of deaths per capita in nursing homes in New England, Shibinette said that is based on the fact that there are so few cases outside of nursing homes in the state.
She used other comparison data points noting that when looking at the number of nursing beds in the state, New Hampshire is currently at 1.5 percent of nursing home residents lost to COVID-19 compared to Rhode Island with 8.2 percent, New York with 3.5 percent, Massachusetts with 6.9 percent and Connecticut with 6.4 percent. Maine has .4 percent.
Another data point looked at was the percent of long-term care facilities with at least one case of COVID-19. New Hampshire has 29 percent of its facilities with at least one case where Rhode Island has 36 percent of its nursing homes with at least one case, New York with 38 percent and Massachusetts with 51 percent.
Every death or negative outcome, Shibinette stressed, “is devasting” not only for the families of those victims but the staff and residents of the nursing homes.
She noted that the state has over 130 individuals working as investigators “contact tracing” for each and every confirmed case of COVID-19 to see who they were in contact with to help isolate and stop the spread of the virus in communities. They are keeping up with demand, Shibinette said.