By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu said the state will take action on 48 recommendations to improve law enforcement that were identified by the task force he created after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minnesota sparking a national outcry on racial injustice.
Also at Sununu’s regular news conference on coronavirus updates Thursday, Dr. Ben Chan, state epidemiologist, told reporters New Hampshire is seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 cases because it is testing more people, but the rate of acceleration does not alarm him.
Dr. Chan said what we are seeing is “what we expect to see: the numbers go up and down.” The state continues to do investigations on each and every case through “contact tracing.
Sununu created the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency which just completed a list of 48 recommendations for change in New Hampshire.
After meeting with the commission this week Sununu said he is willing to endorse all of their recommendations for change and do it as quickly as possible.
“Their charge was difficult,” Sununu said.
The list includes extending the length of police training from 16 weeks, improve training for School Resource Officers, abolish the part-time police academy, implement more mobile crisis response teams for those facing a mental health crisis, mandate implicit bias training for new officers, improve de-escalation training and work better with the hearing impaired.
He said the state has some of the best law enforcement policies in the country but there are things that can be done to make sure our practices are equitable and accountable.
The commission held dozens of public hearings remotely, entertained a lot of public testimony and turned in a report which is here.https://www.governor.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt336/files/documents/accountability-final-report.pdf
He announced his “Road Map for Reforms” Thursday and said there will be executive orders issued in the next week which he can take action on immediately. Other recommendations will need to be addressed through the state police standards and training board and some will require the legislature to act.
Some are going to be local recommendations and incentivizing approaches.
“All of them were very appropriate and achievable,” Sununu said and they are locally driven. Sununu said he has asked the attorney general to lead the effort of implementation.
He said he will also be charging the majority and minority leaders in both House and Senate after the November elections to be lead sponsors of the initiatives in the legislature.
“There should be nothing political,” about the changes that are needed, Sununu said. “The comprehensive reform will be done in a very positive way.”
He said there are limited financial resources, but the state can explore help on that, including funding for dash and body cameras.
“None of it is unachievable,” he said.
Dr. Chan said the state is now averaging about 35 cases a day, up from about 20 cases a day for most of the summer, but much of that is due to the fact there has been more testing as schools open up.
On Thursday, he noted there were 30 million people infected globally, 6.6 million in the United States alone, and in New Hampshire, there have been 7,814 cases, an added 35 on Thursday.
There were no new deaths to report in the Granite State Thursday but still, he said, 438 people have died from this highly transmissible respiratory virus that often finds its victims in crowded spaces.
The metrics still look good, however, with few hospitalizations, he said. With several thousand hospital beds available, the state has only eight people hospitalized with COVID-19 and the percent positive of all the PCR tests for the virus is at about 1 percent.
Much of the increase is due to the state’s aggressive testing strategy as schools and colleges open up. He said it does not constitute a surge, which he said is more than just the metrics but the rate of acceleration, the rate of change in the situation.
Now, Chan said is not the time to take the mask off and go back to crowded events but to maintain social distancing and deprive the virus of what it wants, close contact.
“As schools reopen, as we enter the influenza season now is not the time to relax our social distancing,” Chan said. “This is a virus that likes to take advantage of crowds and people confined in close spaces.”
The state has announced it has closed an outbreak at the Rockingham County House of Correction. Now only one long-term care facility is on the outbreak list, Mountain View in Ossipee.
Sununu praised residents for being vigilant and putting New Hampshire in a relatively envious position compared to other states in the nation and he credited the aggressive actions to monitor and prevent the disease, particularly in testing which has gone up dramatically.
In the spring, the state was testing hundreds of people a day and now the state is testing almost as many as 8,000 of its 1.3 million residents a day. Many of the cases are asymptomatic and in some cases caught early.
“The people of the state deserve a lot of credit,” Sununu said.
He said unemployment numbers continue to go down and he is releasing more federal CARES Act money for health-care providers and hospitals.
Before COVID-19 hit the state in March, New Hampshire had an unemployment rate of 2.4 percent. That shot up to as high as 17 percent in April as businesses were shuttered and people were ordered to stay home. The state had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation because it took such drastic measures to shelter in place, Sununu said.
That rate declined to about 8 percent in July to 6.5 last month and if you look at it today, it’s about 5.1 percent, Sununu said, or roughly 41,000 residents are unemployed. There are jobs out there and if you are a resident looking for a job, you can go online to nhjobs.nh.gov where several thousand jobs are available at hundreds of businesses.
At the outset of the pandemic the financial relief focus was keeping the state’s doctors’ offices, dentists, and hospitals open.
People deferred health care during the pandemic and hospitals had to limit care to transition to COVID-19. Sununu announced more help to keep the state’s health-care systems intact from the CARES Act.
He said 339 doctors and dentists and five hospitals will be able to share in an additional $30 million. This includes Littleton Hospital Association, Southern NH Health System, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua, Monadnock, and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.
No FEMA Help
FEMA announced earlier this week it would not be funding Personal Protective Equipment for schools, but Sununu said there are federal CARES Act funds available to help school districts in need of masks and equipment to deal with the pandemic.
The state has earmarked $1.05 billion of the $1.25 billion it received from the CARES Act and about $200 million is left plus there will be unexpended funds which will likely mean about $300 million or $350 million which needs to be spent before the end of the year, Sununu said.
“If Congress steps up and actually does something, that would change the dynamic a bit,” he said of added relief funds. “Even though FEMA has decided to not step up, there is still a lot of help out there.”
UNH COVID-19 Numbers
The University of New Hampshire has 24 positive cases of COVID-19 among its tested population of 15,688 students, faculty, staff, and contractors as of Sept. 16 at 8 a.m.
There have been two clusters, one from a fraternity party and another from a congregate living facility at the Gables on campus. A single apartment complex is involved, and it was identified through contact tracing.
Its dashboard indicates there are 154 in quarantine, of which 31 are on campus and 30 in isolation, with 11 isolating on campus.
The numbers include individuals at campuses in Durham, Manchester, UNH Law in Concord, and other facilities.
The university has its own independent COVID-19 testing program which so far has tested 23,312 with a positivity rate of .10 percent.
The institution is averaging 3,432 tests per day between Sept. 9 and 15th.