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State Plans Expanded Testing, As N.H. Nursing Home Deaths Mount

Dan Tuohy/NHPR

Nursing homes remain at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Hampshire, as state health officials announced 19 new deaths from the illness at long-term care facilities Wednesday, the highest single day death count since the pandemic began.

Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state will begin a new serial testing program at nursing homes in an effort to limit further spread of the illness.

"We want to stop this at the door and not have this get into the resident population,” Shibinette said.

For weeks, it’s been clear that stopping COVID-19 at the door has been a challenge for many New Hampshire nursing homes. Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for more than 75 percent of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 deaths – the highest percentage of any state in the country, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Shibinette and other state health officials said growing infections warrant a different approach – testing all residents – to contain the spread of coronavirus at long-term care facilities.

Shibinette said new testing equipment from the federal government will make it easier to test residents on site and send those samples to labs for review. She also said the state will begin “sentinel surveillance testing,” or more regular spot testing of selected facilities, to ensure that asymptomatic nursing home staff and residents are noted earlier. State officials had previously planned to only test residents at facilities where an infection had already been reported.

The state is also now making COVID-19 testing available to anyone who believes they have coronavirus symptom, without a referral from a doctor. Residents can reserve tests through the state’s website, Anyone over the age of 60, or who has a pre-existing health condition such as diabetes or asthma, can also request at test, even if they don't have symptoms. Tests are available regardless of a person’s insurance status. 

The state reported 108 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total statewide number to 2,740.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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