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N.H. Officials Say Restrictions Are Working To Stem Coronavirus, Yet Warn Against Easing Up

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
A sign outside Lincoln-Akerman School in Hampton Falls conveys the general mood.

Gov. Chris Sununu and State Epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan said Thursday that recent data show restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus in New Hampshire are working, but they also acknowledged the limitations of any effort to predict the precise impact and timeline of the pandemic at a time when conditions are widely expected to worsen before they improve.

Sununu and Chan, who have been the public face of the state’s response to COVID-19 for weeks, said they expect infections to peak in New Hampshire over the next few weeks and marshalled an array of charts and graphics at a Concord press briefing to bolster their case.

(Click here to view the COVID-19 presentation delivered by state officials.)

“This isn’t going to be an evenly distributed bell curve,” Sununu said after Chan delivered a PowerPoint presentation in a conference room at the state Department of Public Safety. “We are going to bounce around when we are on the back end of this curve, and we want to get the back end of this curve.”

Among the charts Chan presented was one indicating that New Hampshire had one of the lowest rates of per-capita COVID-19 cases of any state in the northeast, except for Maine.  The graph did not account, however, for varied rates of testing by state. New Hampshire has tested for COVID-19 at far lower rates than many states, including New York and Vermont, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“A state that does more testing will identify more cases of COVID-19,” Chan said. “I don’t know exact numbers or comparisons of testing between states.”

Numbers released Thursday show the local deaths linked to COVID-19 has risen to 21. The three new deaths do not involve nursing homes, which are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. Deaths at three long-term care facilities account for almost half of all coronavirus deaths in the state. The facilities also account for 90 positive COVID tests among residents and staff.

(Read more on the latest updates about COVID-19 in New Hampshire.)

The state is monitoring more than 10 other facilities where residents or staff have tested positive for COVID, state health officials said. But Chan said Thursday that he’s not expecting outbreaks at any long-term care facilities to spread to the general public.

“I think the concern is really for the people who live and work in those facilities," Chan said. “But this is part of the reason for the social distancing and the stay at home orders. We can never predict who is going to come down with infection.”

Sununu said he is continuing to work to make sure the state has enough personal protection equipment for healthcare workers responding to the coronavirus. He also said the state approach to securing it hasn’t be hurt by the federals government’s move this week to limit states’ access to the Strategic National Stockpile of supplies including N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, gowns and gloves.

“We’ve been scouring since day one, and I think we are in pretty good shape,” Sununu said.  “We don’t know exactly how long this is going to be, or how big the surge or next surge is going to last. It’s important to note that no health care facility or hospital has said that it’s out of PPE.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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