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COVID-19: NH expands virus testing to more workers; UNH to hold classes this fall

Published: 5/26/2020 8:44:59 PM
Modified: 5/26/2020 9:04:48 PM
NEW HAMPSHIRE State expands virus testingto more workers

CONCORD — As more businesses reopen, New Hampshire is offering coronavirus testing workers who have prolonged contact with colleagues or members of the public while on the job.

The state has set up nine testing sites, as well as mobile teams that can visit workplace parking lots to collect large batches of tests at the same time, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said Tuesday. Tests also are available to anyone with even mild symptoms of COVID-19 as well as health care workers, child care workers, people over age 60 and those with certain health conditions regardless of whether they have symptoms.

While the percentage of positive tests has declined in recent weeks, officials are closely watching the numbers to gauge the effects of reopening some businesses two weeks ago, including hair salons, retail shops and outdoor restaurants.

“Right now, we’re in that window where we’re watching very closely,” Shibinette said. Even if that percentage continues to drop over the next month, she said she wouldn’t be ready to declare the state out of the woods.

“As long as we continue to have outbreaks and negative outcomes at nursing homes I’m not willing to say any of that,” she said. “Our nursing home residents don’t have the liberty of social distancing from our caregivers. They rely on caregivers for their activities of daily living, and those caregivers are part of our community. As long as there is COVID circulating in our communities there is always the risk of bringing it into our nursing homes.”

During a meeting earlier Tuesday of the Governor’s Task Force on Economic Reopening, Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, pressed public health officials to settle on an “acceptable” rate of infection and death.

“We have two crises, one seems to be mitigating somewhat and the data doesn’t show that it’s surging, the other is unquestionably escalating, and escalating rapidly with the destruction of the economy,” he said. “So, somewhere in this mix we’ve got to put a (formula) together that says OK, this is an acceptable rate. It’s a difficult thing to do, but somewhere, someone has to draw that line.”

UNH to hold classes this fall

The University of New Hampshire will hold classes at the Durham campus in the fall, UNH President James Dean said in an announcement Tuesday, although specifics are still being worked out.

“We are planning to welcome students back to campus for the fall semester for in-person instruction,” Dean said in a short video release.

“It will be different, but I’m confident we can do it, together,” Dean said. The school will “implement a wide range of health and safety measures.”

The university system of New Hampshire said three weeks ago that it intended to reopen classes in September, but at the time confirmation was not available.

Colleges all over the country are wrestling with whether, and how, to bring students back onto campus in the fall. Past viral pandemics, most famously the Spanish Flu of 1918, have often had follow-up waves of cases arising in the fall.

A number of colleges and universities have said they “plan to reopen” but so far few have released detailed plans.

Racing and rentals

The attorney general’s office will take action later this week against a Groveton racetrack that violated the state’s order prohibiting large gatherings, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday.

Riverside Speedway held races with spectators Saturday despite being warned by police, according to the attorney general’s office.

The office also is investigating complaints that hotels in Hampton have been renting rooms to nonessential workers in violation of the governor’s orders.

Sununu, who plans to announce plans Friday for the reopening of lodging, said he is confident the attorney general’s office will handle scofflaws appropriately.

“They’re still far and few between, and we’re a small state, so I think we can take them on a case by case basis,” he said.

Help for humanities

The New Hampshire chapter of the National Endowment for the Humanities has distributed $400,000 to libraries, historical societies, museums and cultural nonprofit groups struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

New Hampshire Humanities allocated the federal funding to 64 organizations in about 50 communities. Grants to libraries accounted for just over 40% of the total.

The numbers

As of Monday 4,231 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 34 from the previous day. Four new deaths, all at long-term care facilities, were announced, bringing the total to 214.

Vermont State prepares to close some ‘surge sites’ as virus wanes

BURLINGTON — The state of Vermont is preparing to close some of the surge sites that were set up across the state in case COVID-19 infections overwhelmed its hospitals.

WCAX-TV reports that pop-up sites, like the one at the Spartan Arena in Rutland, were designed for non-COVID patients in case hospitals became inundated with patients who did have the coronavirus.

The Rutland site, which could handle 150 patients, was never used.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the sites in Rutland, St. Albans and Barre will be the first to close.

If conditions change, the sites could be reopened.

State website launched to track COVID-19 expenditures

A new online dashboard will track federal and state expenditures related to COVID-19 in Vermont. State Auditor Doug Hoffer announced the creation of the site last week, which he said will evolve over time as the pandemic progresses and information is updated.

Hoffer said his office created the dashboard because of the “unprecedented” levels of federal funding appropriated to Vermont amid the COVID-19 crisis. The tool is intended to help Vermonters follow the flow of these public dollars, to better understand how the $2 billion-plus is spent.

“Quickly disbursing funds aimed at mitigating this crisis while avoiding fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement is a critical but challenging task,” Hoffer said in a statement. “Providing the public with a transparent accounting of how their money is spent and can be spent is critical to the success of this effort.”

The site provides an account of all spending and planned spending, data on expenditures by the state, hospitals, community health centers, higher education, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, with other sectors’ data to be published in coming weeks.

“Government accountability is necessary to ensure that this extraordinary disbursement of public funds is spent effectively and efficiently,” Hoffer said. “As we conduct accountability exercises, we will seek to inform Vermonters of how their money is used to solve these problems.”

The numbers

On Tuesday, the Vermont Health Department reported five new cases of people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, bringing the total to just under 970. The number of deaths remains unchanged at 54.

— Associated Press, VtDigger and Concord Monitor reports

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