COVID-19 news for Thursday: Sununu issues stay-at-home order for NH; non-essential businesses must close

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2020 3:43:18 PM
Modified: 3/27/2020 7:41:37 PM

New Hampshire residents are under a stay-at-home order effective midnight on Friday, which also means non-essential businesses will have to end all in-person operations and interactions with the public.

Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday issued the order, intended to keep the new coronavirus from spreading faster, and said it will run into early May.

And in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott said schools should teach students remotely and remain closed through the rest of the school year, extending by at least two months what had been an April 6 target for a return to the physical classroom.

Sununu extended the “remote learning” program for New Hampshire schoolchildren until May 4, meaning thousands of students in the Granite State will remain at home for another month.

“We don’t take any of these decisions lightly,” Sununu said at a news conference. “With the anticipated surge in hospitalizations, now is the appropriate time to take these unprecedented steps.”

Scott issued a similar “Stay Home, Stay Safe” call earlier this week.

Under the New Hampshire stay-home order, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, liquor stores, health care facilities, restaurants, the news media and manufacturers are among the exempted business, and construction will also be allowed to continue, according to the Associated Press.

Although the order also means state beaches will close, Sununu said it is not a strict shelter-in-place order.

“We are not calling out the National Guard here to force people back into their homes,” he said.

“We cannot stress this enough — you should stay at your house unless absolutely necessary. Of course, we will not prevent you from leaving your home to go on a walk, go to the store, or if you are going to work.”

Sununu also said his administration will work with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to create a plan so that essential workers, such as health care providers, will have access to safe child care that follows federal guidelines.

Jobless claims soar

The number of initial claims for people seeking unemployment benefits skyrocketed last week, soaring from 282,000 to almost 3.3 million around the country, evidence that the national economy is being hammered by the COVID-19 outbreak.

And the new jobless numbers were just as alarming in the Twin States, rising from 642 initial claims in the week ended March 14 in New Hampshire to 21,878 last week.

In Vermont, the numbers soared from 659 to 3,667, though officials in both states acknowledged the true numbers are even higher because some people had trouble getting through online.

Economists expect the unemployment rate to soar in coming months.

“What seemed impossible just two weeks ago is now reality,” Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at the consulting firm Oxford Economics, told the Associated Press. “The US economy will experience the largest economic contraction on record with the most severe surge in unemployment ever.”

Sununu in his news conference said the number of people who are losing their jobs could double or even triple, adding, “That’s an incredibly scary thought, frankly. We have a lot of people having trouble putting food on the table.”

He said that’s why he has moved to ban evictions and the shut-off of utilities for nonpayment, and said the massive stimulus bill in Washington should also help, but cautioned, “It’s going to be a long haul.”

Sununu also said it’s possible the stay-at-home order could be extended into the summer, depending on how the virus spread.

Like Scott, he said he is acting so that the expected surge of sick patients doesn’t overwhelm New Hampshire hospitals, as is happening in New York City and other hard-hit areas.

“We have to make sure the health care system can manage that,” Sununu said.

Vermont took one small additional step to help people on the unemployment rolls this week. The requirement that recipients demonstrate they are actively seeking work each week has been suspended until further notice, in large part to abide by safety measures issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the pandemic.

Vermont health officials said the state as of Thursday had seen 158 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 9 deaths.

In the stimulus bill

Both states will get at least $1.25 billion apiece in the stimulus bill, and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of the main negotiators of the package, said Vermont could see close to $2 billion in benefits.

That includes $5.4 million for public health activities; $4.7 million in block grant funding to expand community health facilities, child care centers, food banks and senior services; another $4.3 million to help with child care for essential workers in the crisis; and $20 million for public transportation.

Another $9.6 million will go to Vermont airports, and there is even $3 million in election assistance grants and $826,000 to help cultural institutions that have had to close because of the virus.

Dartmouth site considered

Leaders of Dartmouth College’s COVID-19 Task Force confirmed on Thursday that an indoor athletic facilities on campus may be used for a so-called clinical flex area to care for patients who can no longer be accommodated in Upper Valley hospitals if the number of coronavirus patients rises dramatically, as expected.

Dartmouth and local officials are working with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to find a place for up to 150 beds for patients “needing low-intensity care,” the Dartmouth officials said.

NH Attorney General warns of scams

Watch out for false claims on social media or websites claiming to have a cure for the coronavirus. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is warning the public to be on the lookout for a variety of scams, including phony emails purporting to be from the CDC.

Instead, they can contain a computer virus that could take over your computer. Residents are also encouraged to do their homework before making donations and making sure a charity is legitimate.

“Currently, there are no prescriptions or over-the-counter pills, vaccines, oils, lotions, or other products available to treat or cure COVID-19,” the AG’s Office cautioned. “Always check with your health care provider before buying such products.”

Windsor hospital taking equipment donations

Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center says it is accepting donations of surgical masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer and even “gently used scrubs” to help supplement the hospital’s supply of personal protective equipment.

The donations can be dropped off at 393 County Road in Windsor, near the access road to the hospital, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Norwich stops issuing burn permits

The town of Norwich has stopped issuing burn permits, in part out of concern about potential exposure as people seek permits and to ease risks to first responders if a fire should get out of control.

And the town of Hartford has cut back the hours at its solid waste facility.

It will be open on Tuesdays and Saturdays only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We understand that many members of our community may be at home and engaging in home improvement or spring cleaning projects. We are asking that our users remain respectful of the current situation and use the Solid Waste facility to dispose ONLY of necessary and essential household waste at this time in an effort to reduce the burden on our facility,” the town said on its Facebook page.

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