By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Members of the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force said there should be some sort of reporting mechanism that would allow the state and local college communities to know if out-of-state students have tested positive for COVID-19.
Currently, if you are from out of state and test positive for COVID-19, that test result will go to your state of residence and will not necessarily show up in any New Hampshire data. In addition to incoming students, that also applies to vacationers from out of state who get sick here and may go home or still be here.
If you have two homes with one in New Hampshire and an established pattern of going back and forth, the data will be recorded in the state in which you were diagnosed, said Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the state Department of Public Health Division of Public Health Services.
She spoke to the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force Thursday and received many questions about students returning to the state.
Tilley noted the pandemic is the “most serious health crisis many of us have lived through,” and she detailed not only data which shows the state is facing “a fairly stable pattern of new cases,” she said.
As of Thursday, the state had 420 deaths attributed to the virus and 305 active cases with 18 hospitalized and none in intensive care. More than 3,000 who have been exposed to the virus are under surveillance, she said.
Tilley described the state in a fairly stable pattern of new cases and in comparatively good shape compared to much of the rest of the country outside New England.
She said that last week, the state had 378 active cases but only 305 Thursday, a significant improvement.
A copy of her Power Point presentation on the current COVID-19 situation in NH is here https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/bcff1518-58f8-4cd5-bb2d-52f115fef166/public-health-update-August-13-pdf.pdf
But she got pushback from the public and members of the task force on the department’s continued guidance and limitations on businesses as the number of cases decline.
State Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, asked what metrics the department is watching to allow for ease on opening up guidance, as all metrics are moving down.
“What’s it going to take…to move restrictions,” Lang said, noting it seems “like we are being frozen right now” with no expectation on continued opening up restrictions easing until November or later.
D.J. Bettencourt, chair of the task force and a member of Gov. Chris Sununu’s staff, noted some examples of more opening up, which Thursday was expected to include easing of the 10-children maximum at classrooms in daycare centers and driver’s education guidance.
State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said there is a lack of external guidance for colleges and universities and other institutions that are bringing students into the state. Many colleges are requiring that students test prior to arriving on campus.
Carson said the task force should have oversight because someone is paying for tuition and that makes it an economic/health issue.
State Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, said some states do have access to non-resident COVID-19 cases noting that Montana has information on non-resident visitors. He said Alaska and Florida also give out supplemental information on non-resident cases to satisfy the public’s desire for transparency.
He called for that to be part of the state’s public metric. Tilley said she would pass that on to other members of the department.
She noted issues around students moving into New Hampshire are on the department’s minds right now as they think about guidance documents for each campus.
Tilley said: “We all know that a thriving economy helps everyone.
“We know that some of that (reopening guidance) has been a burden, but we also know we have been able to make those changes” to protect public health.
Tilley went on: “That is why New Hampshire seems to do so well…We are wearing masks in public and in the retail environment with plexiglass between the cashier and the public.”
State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, asked Tilley to identify the number and types of testing and their turn-around times, accuracy, and efficacy but she said she was not in an immediate position to give details noting Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, could give a better answer.
She said there are PCR and quick tests and noted earlier in her presentation that turn-around times for tests are now improving.
“I don’t think that is a satisfactory answer,” said Giuda. “We are basing the entire economy of this state on tests,” which in some cases are 60 percent accurate. “I want that right away,” he said.
He added concerns of constituents who are not being allowed to be in hospitals at a dying person’s bedside.
Giuda was told that hospitals make that call, not the task force.
Steve Ahnen, a member of the task force and the president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said at the beginning of the health crisis, hospitals came together and put together some guidance for visitors and tried to limit the number of people coming into and out of the hospital “for the very purpose of trying to prevent the spread of the disease.”
“Every situation is different,” Ahnen said.
Hospitals recently issued revised guidance to allow one person to enter to emotionally help the patient during their care.
Tilley said many hospitals are using guidance from Centers for Medicaid which states that “every consideration should be made so that close family may have access to their loved one” at the time of death.
Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, and a member of the task force expressed concern on behalf of his industry on recent changes in the state’s universal guidelines.
He said that if one employee is infected, a quarantine could shut down a restaurant for two weeks.
“You cannot test out of quarantine,” Somers said. Restaurants are short staffed right now, he said.
He said the new rules include a designated health agent on the property at all times, and that was not discussed with the task force. Somers also asked if they could update the guidance on weddings and special events to allow for 10 at a table as they have from restaurants.
Somers also asked Bettencourt to ask Sununu for an update on games like playing darts in a bar and indoor entertainment where small bands and social distancing in the audience would be feasible. He then asked about golf tournaments and the new mask ordinance for more than 100.
Bettencourt said he would look into those and other issues before they meet again next week.
For more information on the task force visit https://www.nheconomy.com/reopeningtaskforce