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New Outbreaks At N.H. Nursing Homes; Testing Continues At Long-Term Care Facilities

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Dan Tuohy / NHPR
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A sign directs people to the mobile testing site at Pease Tradeport.

Two new COVID-19 clusters have been reported at New Hampshire nursing homes, as officials announced that long-term care facilities account for 60 percent of all coronavirus-related infections in the state. 

Infections of COVID-19 have been detected at a wide range of New Hampshire facilities in recent weeks, including county nursing homes, private nursing facilities and institutions that care for medically vulnerable young people. The newest outbreaks announced Thursday were at two nursing homes in Derry: Derry Healthcare and Rehabilitation, where eight residents and five staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and the Pleasant Valley Nursing Home in Derry, which has four detected cases among residents and three among staff.

Health and Human Services commissioner Lori Shibinette said the new clusters come as the state ramps up testing at nursing homes, which have borne the brunt of the state’s COVID-19 infections for weeks, in an effort to stem the rise in infections among elderly, frail and otherwise vulnerable populations.

“As soon as we learned of the first positive we went through and either tested all of the residents on the unit or all the residents in the building, and then set up priority testing,” Shibinette said.

Three more people in the state have died from the illness - all at long-term care facilities - bringing the state’s total COVID-19 deaths to 51.

The state also reported new case numbers for other nursing homes in Manchester, Nashua, Dover and Salem: 

  • Bellamy Fields in Dover: 33 residents, 10 staff.
  • Easter Seals in Manchester: 45 residents, 56 staff.
  • Hanover Hill in Manchester: 47 residents, 40 staff.
  • The Huntington in Nashua: 23 residents, 17 staff.
  • Salem Woods in Salem: 21 residents, 5 staff.

The 84 additional known COVID-19 infections announced Thursday bring the state’s total known cases to 1,670. New Hampshire saw single-day highs in both the number of new infections and COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday.
State epidemiologist Ben Chan said the rise in numbers does not necessarily mean the virus is spreading more rapidly, but that an increase in testing has turned up more previously unknown cases.

Among the new cases reported Thursday were several dozen at Gammon Academy, a residential facility in Manchester for children with disabilities. As of Wednesday, 45 students have tested positive for the disease at Gammon Academy, which is run by Easterseals.

Easterseals said all of the students who've tested positive so far are asymptomatic. Still, the facility said it is practicing social distancing whenever possible to keep students who've tested positive separate from those who have not.

Easterseals said its staff with COVID-19 are also asymptomatic, but are self-quarantining at home or in other Easterseals-run facilities.

Meanwhile, two county-run nursing homes are reporting new cases of COVID-19. The Grafton County Nursing Home said one resident and one contract worker have tested positive for the virus. County Commission Chair Linda Lauer said in an interview that the resident’s condition is improving, and the facility is awaiting test results for the other occupants of that resident's wing. The affected employee was a traveling nurse who only worked a couple days at the home, Lauer said.

Lauer said these cases felt almost inevitable, especially because people can carry the coronavirus without showing symptoms.

“I mean, for all I know, I’m carrying it right now – I don’t know,” she said. “That’s the scary thing... I don’t know how you could prevent it from getting in.”

Lauer said workers at Grafton County Nursing Home are wearing protective gear and being screened daily for symptoms – but “if the virus becomes prevalent in the community... none of those [measures] are foolproof.”

In Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, which have been the hardest hit by the virus, the state is testing all long-term care facility workers for the virus, in part to try and identify workers who may be carrying it without knowing. Roughly 1,500 nursing home workers were tested this week, according to the state health department.

If the Grafton County home begins to see more cases, Lauer said, she may want to ask for a similar screening program. 

Meanwhile, a “part-time non-direct care worker” at Cheshire County's Maplewood Nursing Home also tested positive for the virus this week, according to a release from County Administrator Chris Coates.

Coates said the state determined the case poses low-to-minimal risk of transmission due to its timing.

The employee last worked at the facility on April 14 and began to feel ill April 20. Coates said the worker remained six feet from others while in the facility and wore protective gear. No other residents or workers have shown symptoms this week.

“Maplewood has increased assessments on residents and continues to assess staff as they enter, and again after eight hours if they work a longer shift,” the county release states. “Monitoring will continue for 14 days from the last day this worker was in the facility.”

These new reports are some of the first known cases among workers or residents at New Hampshire's county nursing homes. A worker at Hillsborough County’s nursing home also tested positive earlier this month but does not appear to have infected any residents.