By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The state received federal approval for $300 more a week for the unemployed, a total of 17 rural communities will share in expanded broadband infrastructure, and the president is coming to Manchester on Friday.
There’s also an outbreak of COVID-19 at a county jail and worries about off-campus college parties as students return to campuses that were among the topics explored at Gov. Chris Sununu’s news conference Tuesday.
It came as 16 new cases of the virus were reported in the state Tuesday with no new deaths.
One day after accepting his party’s nomination, President Donald Trump plans a visit to Manchester at the airport where masks will be required by participants in keeping with the state’s guidance on gatherings of 100 or more.
Sununu said he had no other information other than the president plans to visit and he will be there to greet him but not attend the rally.
It would be inappropriate to ask him not to come during the pandemic, Sununu said, and he wants to be “a gracious host” and greet the sitting president.
Sununu said if he has a moment with the president he will ask him to be more flexible with the remaining CARES Act funds that the state has to spend.
At the end of the year, it has to be spent or sent back. He said at the very least, he can still put money in the drained unemployment trust fund.
Sununu said he deletes his office emails every 30 days and has done that since becoming governor.
He said there may be exceptions to keeping an email if we “felt we needed to keep it we will keep it.”
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said the state has lost 429 lives to COVID-19 since March 2 and there have been a total 7,150 cases but the state “continues to see good trends in our numbers,” noting that the average now is about 20 new cases per day and the percent positive results on PCR tests for COVID-19 have remained just below 1 percent for the past 10 days.
Those who have lost wages due to the pandemic and are unemployed will get $300 a week from the federal government, in addition to state unemployment compensation.
Sununu announced that on Monday the state received word from the federal government that New Hampshire will receive the funds through the Lost Wages Assistance Program floated by the Administration when Congress was not able to come to an agreement on continued relief packages.
Up until Aug. 1, residents were receiving $600 a week in addition to state help through the unemployment trust fund.
Sununu submitted the plan and it covers everyone in the state and will be paid out in the next few weeks and retroactive to Aug. 1.
To comply, the state is hiking the minimum amount it pays to $100 per person for a minimum of $400 a week total and that goes through the end of the year or until it is replaced by another congressional relief program.
Sununu said New Hampshire is on track to be one of the first in the nation to get these funds.
Sununu detailed the final list of communities sharing in the $14 million CARES Act funding to help connect the “last mile” or residents who have limited broadband access. The pandemic has increased the need for distance learning and working from home using the internet.
A few weeks ago, Sununu announced a partial list of communities that will receive this federal assistance. Tuesday he completed the list. They are Bristol, Canaan, Clarksville, Colebrook, Danbury, Deering, Errol, Hinsdale, Hillsborough, Lempster, Loudon, Mason, Nelson, Springfield, Stewartstown, Stoddard, and Washington.
In all, broadband expansion will improve broadband access to 4,500 properties.
The town of Sandwich, which had been announced as getting a broadband grant several weeks ago, will not get the expansion, Sununu said, as the deal between the town and the provider has fallen through and no other applicant was able to meet the construction deadlines.
The CARES Act money, which is being tapped for the expansion needs to be spent with construction completed by the end of the year, according to federal guidelines.
Jails, Nursing Homes, Colleges
Lori Shibinette, the state’s commissioner of Health and Human Services, said the state has a new COVID-19 outbreak reported at the Rockingham County Jail.
She said 10 prisoners and one staff member have tested positive and the prisoners have been quarantined while the others are being tested for the virus. There are no plans to do sentinel testing in other jails.
Some colleges are reporting that students returning to campus have tested positive while here while others have tested positive prior to returning to campus.
She said in about two weeks the state will have a public “educational dashboard” which will show the number of cases at schools from K-12 institutions to college campuses.
Some colleges which did pre-screening prior to the arrival of their students caught a few cases and those students have not returned to campus. Others are doing testing when the students arrive.
Campuses that have positive cases are Plymouth State University, Franklin Pierce College, Kimball Union Academy, and New England College, Shibinette said.
In some cases, students are quarantining on campus if they live outside of New England while others have sent students home.
“I am very encouraged we have the robust testing program we have,” at these institutions, Shibinette said. ” I think we are seeing good results with pre-screeing.”
Testing results are coming on average in three days and in the interim students should be quarantining, Shibinette said.
Sununu expressed concern about social events off-campus and the lack of ability to control those activities such as parties that could become places where the virus could spread, impacting the school and communities where they live.
He said he is looking at the national picture where parties off campus primarily are the source of the spread of the virus.
“I can tell you this is a very large area of concern,” Sununu stressed and he said it is a big ask and “a bit of a plea,” for college students to be responsible during a pandemic.
“It can have a rapid domino effect,” he said if COVID-19 were to spread at an off-campus party. “We are asking for a bit of a sacrifice here.”
Sununu said off-campus landlords have been engaged but there are few enforcement or actions the state can take unless they are breaking guidelines. “Unfortunately at other colleges and universities, it has gone very bad very quickly,” and some schools have shut down and returned to remote-only learning.
Sununu said the state should expect to see more cases of COVID-19 with schools opening.
Chan also noted that sports on school campuses need to follow guidance if they decide to proceed.
“We are still in the midst of a pandemic,” Chan said.
Long-Term Care Ventilation
The state hired professionals to assess any similarities in the ventilation systems at 28 long-term care facilities that all faced outbreaks of three or more cases of the virus but found no correlation that may have been contributing factors to the outbreaks, Shibinette said.
“We did ask engineers if there is anything we could be doing,” she said and they did suggest the state look at ultraviolet light protection in the systems.
The state’s five Community Action Project or CAP agencies have launched a new streamlined application for housing relief. Sununu said it is a much easier process to apply. It requires information needed to ensure folks can get those funds for COVID-19 relief and then relief for those unrelated to the pandemic. More information is at goferr.nh.gov/apply or call 2-1-1.