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COVID-19 updates, March 24: Scott issues ‘Stay Home’ order; Sununu bans gatherings of more than 10

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2020 1:52:47 PM
Modified: 3/24/2020 9:29:12 PM

Here is a roundup of COVID-19 news in the Upper Valley:

NH bars gatherings of more than 10

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday ordered Vermonters to stay in their homes and leave only for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping, caring for others, getting exercise or going to work if their employer remains open.

The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order also called for the closing of “in-person operations for all non-essential businesses” as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to be very clear about this: We need everyone to limit activities outside of the home and to practice social distancing at all times to slow the spread of this highly contagious and potentially deadly virus,” Scott said in a news release. “The more Vermonters who take this seriously and stay home, the faster we can return to normal.”

The order, which takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, says business operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery only, can continue.

Among the sectors exempted from the order are health care operations; groceries, pharmacies and hardware stores; gas stations and fuel suppliers; transportation; manufacturing deemed critical; and the news media.

The order will be in effect until April 15, though it could be extended or shortened, the release said.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu has not issued a “stay home” directive but did prohibit scheduled gatherings of more than 10 people including church services, social events and recreational activities.

The Granite State ban, which is in effect until at least April 6, does not apply to the Legislature, day-to-day operations of businesses or nonprofits, or urgent medical purposes including blood drives or pandemic meetings.

Sununu’s order says the Division of Public Health would enforce the measure, with help from state or local police if needed.

He also announced a new website, nhresponds.org, whereby volunteers, including those with a health care background, can sign up to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state is looking for nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, and other health care professionals, as well as people with transportation or security experience, among other skills.

“This is an ‘all hands on deck’ for our state,” she said. “We need more volunteers to step up and help mitigate this pandemic.”

Shibinette said the health care workers may have retired or moved into administrative roles but have the skills to help if the health care system is swamped with new patients.

“We are happy to help them move barriers when it comes to licensing,” she said. “They just need to contact us.”

New Hampshire had reported 108 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday evening, with one of seven new cases appearing in Grafton count. and Sununu said there will be a “huge surge” in the number of cases reported in the weeks to come, especially as testing capacity also increases dramatically. He urged people to continue to practice social distancing, and for people who have traveled to New Hampshire from outside the state to self-isolate.

“We want people to understand we are in this for the long haul,” Sununu said. “The surge could happen in three, four or five weeks.”

Vt. National Guard helping with surge sites

The Vermont National Guard on Tuesday said 48 soldiers and airmen are now on state active duty and helping to establish medical surge facilities around Vermont to provide more beds if hospitals become overburdened by the COVID-19 outbreak.

They are being established at the Gutterson Fieldhouse at the University of Vermont in Burlington, the Barre Municipal Auditorium, and at the Collins Perley Sports and Fitness Center in St. Albans.

The Vermont National Guard will also provide medical personnel to assist the UVM Medical Center in screening patients, according to a Guard news release on Tuesday.

The release said the medical surge sites “will be used for low-acuity patients who can be moved from a hospital facility safely. These locations were selected because they serve areas with the highest current COVID patient load and/or bed requirements, and more sites will be added as needed.”

New Hampshire officials are looking to set up at least eight similar sites in the Granite State, including one in the Upper Valley.

Vermont has reported 95 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, most at the Burlington Health and Rehab Center. On Tuesday, state health officials said about 10 asymptomatic and short-term patients at the Burlington nursing home were being moved to “appropriately adapted rooms” at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Burlington to keep them isolated from other residents.

Vt. State Colleges to remain online-only

Vermont State Colleges, including Vermont Technical College in Randolph, will operate by remote instruction through the end of the spring semester, and students won’t return next month as initially slated. Residence halls also will not reopen this semester.

Decisions on graduation ceremonies are pending, according to an update Tuesday from Chancellor Jeb Spaulding.

Five Colleges Book Sale goes online

The wildly popular Five Colleges Book Sale has had to cancel its annual two-day sale, which this year was scheduled for April 18 and 19 at Lebanon High School, and instead will begin listing the books it has collected online “through a partner website” in mid-April, the group said on its website.

Volunteers also are no longer accepting donations of books for this year.

“As this is our first time doing an online-only sale, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way, so please bear with us as we start in on this unprecedented time,” the group said. “We feel this is the best way to continue the sale while doing our part to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

The sale, which involves as many as 50,000 books, has been held since 1962, and net revenues provide scholarships for high school students in Vermont and New Hampshire.

People with questions can contact Priscilla Dube at 603-848-3311 or priscilla2nh@gmail.com.

Elsewhere on the book front, while some Upper Valley libraries including Lyme’s Converse Free Library and the Fairlee Public Library were initially offering curbside pickup of materials including books and DVDs, many of those services have been suspended due to concerns over how COVID-19 can be spread. Library staff have instead refocused their efforts on connecting patrons with online resources including e-books and audiobooks.

Stevens High Alumni Weekend canceled

Organizers with the Stevens High Alumni Association have decided to cancel the June 13 Alumni Weekend because of safety concerns and travel logistics, the first time it’s ever been called off.

“Believe me, this decision has not been easy to make, but I feel this decision is in the best interest of all of us, and is for the safety and well-being of alumni as well as citizens of Claremont and surrounding areas to cancel all planned alumni events the weekend of June 13th,” Stevens Alumni President Doug LeBlanc, a 1963 graduate, said on the association’s web page.

“I leave it up to 5-year classes to make their own decisions as to whether to have their own parties and functions or to move forward and plan for next year,” he wrote.

Sunapee firefighters appeal for donations

First responders at the Sunapee Fire Department are asking members of the community with extra N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and related supplies to consider donating them to the department.

“The equipment listed helps SFD first responders stay safe while responding to calls during the pandemic. Help the Sunapee Fire Department keep rescue in service, and safe, for both the staff and community members in need of assistance,” the department said in a Facebook post.

Anyone with extra items they are willing to donate is asked to Austin Brown at 603-867-8288 or at brown.t.austin@gmail.com.

Problems with disposal

Take a minute to think carefully about what you are trying to recycle, and consider whether it should instead be going into the garbage can.

Canaan Town Administrator Mike Samson sent this note out after an evident problem in his town:

“It is totally unacceptable to be sick with any illness, use a tissue to blow your nose and then put it in with recyclables,” Samson wrote, in part, in a townwide email. “Our recycling attendant comes into contact with this tissue and can become ill. If this practice is repeated, we will be forced to close down recycling for some period of time. Please use common sense.”

On a related note, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services on Tuesday urged residents to flush only human waste and toilet paper down toilets. The agency said municipal wastewater treatment plants are concerned that because of the toilet paper shortage, people may begin trying to flush rags, paper towels and old T-shirts, which can clog both sewer and septic systems.

“The bottom line is that the only safe items to flush are human waste and toilet paper. If you are forced to use something other than toilet paper, please place it in a bag and dispose of it in your trash,” DES said in a news release.




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