By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Family and friends of loved ones in long-term care facilities may finally be able to visit outdoors together in the coming weeks, state health officials said Tuesday at Gov. Chris Sununu’s news conference.
And though it is “a very difficult sector to reopen,” adult day centers may be able to reopen soon with distancing and reduced capacity for seniors, many of whom have dementia and have cognitively declined during the pandemic because of social distancing, officials said.
Marking 100 days since the first case was diagnosed in the state, it has felt like 100 years, Sununu said, and that is certainly the case for the elderly and their loved ones who have been separated by the virus and the walls of the nursing home facilities where they reside.
To help protect them, nursing homes were among the first closed to the public in March.
With eight new deaths reported Tuesday – six of whom were associated with long-term care – and 53 new cases being diagnosed for COVID-19 Tuesday, the data in New Hampshire is becoming more positive, said Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, but he said nursing homes still are an area of great concern.
He noted that there are now 7.1 million cases globally and the United States is approaching 2 million cases. New Hampshire has seen 5,132 cases over the course of the three months.
Of the eight new deaths reported Tuesday, six were among those who reside in long-term care facilities.
Chan noted that about 80 percent of the deaths in the state are among those who live in those facilities and that it is “highlighting where the burden is.”
The state has tested over 80,000 of its 1.3 million residents and is averaging about 1,800 tests a day, with anyone able to access testing for free now regardless of symptoms and they show 2 to 3 percent of the population tested has COVID-19. Several weeks ago, that percentage was closer to 5 percent.
With that in mind, the hope is to allow for more contact for residents of nursing homes to see their family and those outside the walls of their long-term care facilities.
Commissioner of Health and Human Services Lori Shibinette said the state has developed a working group and is developing guidance for opening up nursing homes to outdoor visits by appointment. She said she hoped to have something to report later this week or in the next week.
The visits would be in facilities that do not have active outbreaks of COVID-19, she noted. In a question related to a story by InDepthNH.org today, Shibinette said the 17 Adult Day Centers for the elderly across the state have been closed since the outbreak.
She said the centers are “vitally important” and the pandemic has created an environment where the elderly, for their own health, don’t have those social interactions, whether they live at home and go to the centers or live in a nursing home.
The hope, she said, is that in the next few weeks the state can find a way to open the centers up.
Shibinette said she felt confident that the staff at these centers would be able to achieve safe distancing and other precautions to allow for a safe resumption of services.
Sununu acknowledged that while most of the state’s businesses will be open by next Monday, “we are still having to make some very tough decisions.”
Go Get a Test
The governor urged everyone in the state to go get a COVID-19 test and noted he did that on Sunday when he pulled up to a drive-through at a Rite Aid pharmacy. He said he was amazed at how quick and easy it was to be tested.
Sununu does not yet have test results but said he has been healthy and not symptomatic of the virus. Common symptoms are a cough and fever.
“I am really urging anyone,” to get the test, Sununu said.
He said it could help reduce transmission of the virus as people return to work and increase their social interactions.
Main Street Relief
With $400 million in federal CARES Act money waiting to be distributed, Sununu urged small businesses who have pre-qualified for Main Street grants to finalize their requests and get them into the state by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
He said there is still between $300 and $400 million of that CARES Act money available but he noted he is saving some for “a second surge coming” theorizing that it will come in September and October.