By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – As the state nears 10,000 cases of COVID-19, Gov. Chris Sununu and top health officials discussed funding programs to help businesses, concerns for unemployment fraud, how the state might reopen ice rinks for hockey and the potential that President Donald Trump will be returning for a bit more retail politics.
More Rapid Tests
The state now has 12 community testing sites for COVID-19 using a 15-minute turnaround time for results. These antigen tests for symptomatic people can help slow the spread of the virus and there are more testing sites that will be opening in the next few weeks, Sununu said.
Sununu said it is his understanding that President Trump, who is running for re-election, may be visiting the Granite State again for a bit of in-person campaigning this Sunday.
Details were limited and not finalized but he indicated the event would likely be in the Manchester area.
Sununu said he would be there to greet Trump, as he would any sitting president, but he does not plan to attend the rally or campaign with the president while he is in the state.
While Sununu said he has some concern about these events, where people often do not wear masks or observe social distancing of six feet or more between people, he said the state’s track record of not having super spread events is pretty good.
“You are wrong if you are not wearing a mask,” Sununu said when responding to general concerns that the public just isn’t buying it and following guidelines to wear the facial coverings.
“You don’t want to be the next domino that makes it very dangerous. There are cases across the country where they don’t think it is a big deal,” and something happens. He said rather than listen to science people just need to learn about what happened in Millinocket, Maine, or other places where people who did not take it seriously caused lives to be lost.
“It is very real, very serious. Look at some of those real-life examples if you are not going to listen to the scientists, then listen to those tragic stories,” Sununu said.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said Thursday during the weekly COVID-19 press briefing that there was one new death and 82 new cases bringing the total to 9,994 residents who have had the virus since March.
He said the state now has 882 people actively sick and where the state’s seven-day average was about 53 cases it is now up to an average of 83.
Still, the PCR positivity rate is at about 1 percent, Chan said, and while there were two new hospitalizations, that number remains fairly stable at 18 total cases.
He urged people to help manage the crisis by avoiding crowds, wearing masks, social distancing and he put in a plug related to getting a flu shot as he just did.
While it won’t protect people from the novel coronavirus, it will decrease the burden on the healthcare system and symptoms for flu can be confusing and lead people to miss school or work.
Lori Shibinette, the state commissioner of Health and Human Services, said the state has closed an outbreak of three or more cases at a long-term care facility in Windham, Warde Health Center, leaving three other outbreaks at Bedford Hills, Pine Rock Manor in Warner and St. Theresa’s.
She brought some slides and data points to talk about, which show New Hampshire’s relatively good statistics compared to New England.
About 81 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.
She said New Hampshire’s community transmission rate is low, compared to other New England states.
Sununu said he will look at guidance suggested by his reopening task force to allow rinks to open for hockey, but he said he was not ready to agree with people who were complaining that the new guidance requires all to have a COVID-19 test before resuming activity inside a rink.
Sununu said the state has seen as many as eight different outbreaks traced to hockey which has gotten into schools and has closed rinks for a two-week period to develop new guidance, sanitize and hit the reset button on the season.
Sununu said he will be reviewing suggested guidance with Chan on Friday and hopes to have new guidance. It is likely that they will be asked to forgo team gatherings of the ice, maintain social distancing in the rinks and locker rooms and Sununu said he did not see why it would be so hard for everyone to get tested as he hits the restart button.
“Testing is important,” he said. When hitting the reset button it is good to know that people coming back on the ice know that they are not going to be a party to a spreader event.
Main Street Relief 2.0
The second round of business relief is now open and as of Monday over 2,000 have applied for an additional $100 million with a deadline to apply Oct. 30 at goferr.nh.gov/apply.
The businesses must be for-profit, established since May 2019, and are centered in the state.
He said minority businesses would be approached by volunteers and encouraged to apply as part of the state’s equity response, which has shown that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color.
Veterans To Get $2M
Sununu announced he is adding another $2 million to the $7 million CARES Act appropriation to help veterans’ needs from homelessness to other service needs.
He noted that Nov. 11 Veterans Day is quickly approaching and residents should remember and recognize the sacrifices made by veterans.
He said COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the challenges these people face, with more isolation and veterans more hesitant to receive services. He said he recently visited and toured the new Liberty House homeless veterans home in Manchester which will provide a full-service facility for 30 veterans and noted it is wonderful to see how some of these funds are being used.
New Hampshire unemployment numbers continue to drop and while the state’s unemployment program is safe and secure, there have been national reports of fraud, particularly using identity theft.
New Hampshire has had about 6,000 attempts but only fewer than 100 cases where thieves have gotten about $20,000.
Some states have fallen victim and lost hundreds of millions, he said.
“We have a responsibility to keep our eye out,” and he urged recipients to keep an eye on their account, review correspondence, and if there is a problem call 271-7700.
He said scammers were trying to call people for repayment.
“Don’t repay over the phone with a credit card. The state will never ask you for credit card info and that should be a clear red flag,” Sununu warned.
No Long-Term Care Bonus
A study committee looking at long-term care needs on Thursday recommended the state consider reinstituting a weekly bonus for health care-workers at nursing homes similar to the $300 a week emergency stipend that ended in July, but Sununu said he is not looking at that at this time, though he may be willing to revisit it in the future.
Manchester officials are concerned their request for more homeless funding was denied.
Sununu said they have enough money through March 2021 and if there is still more need in January he will revisit it.
He said giving more money now to Manchester might deny funding for places like Dover and Lancaster.