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Seven New COVID-19 Outbreaks As N.H. Prepares For Vaccine Delivery

Dan Tuohy/NHPR

State health officials announced seven new institutional outbreaks of COVID-19 in New Hampshire Thursday, and warned that rising caseloads in the broader community are driving higher death rates among vulnerable populations in group living settings.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said that 16 people have died of COVID-19 over the past two days, the majority of them residents of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes.

New Hampshire's nursing homes have been particularly hard hit over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, with multiple outbreaks and scores of deaths through the spring and summer. Many facilities saw a sharp decrease in cases in recent months, but the surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 that has struck New Hampshire, as much of the rest of the country, has put long-term care facilities back at the center of the state’s coronavirus crisis.

Outbreaks were announced Thursday at the following facilities: Grace House in Windham (infections among 3 residents and 5 staff members); Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham (13 residents, 14 staff); Hanover Hill in Manchester (15 residents, 2 staff); Benchmark Senior Living at Nashua Crossings in Nashua (14 residents, 14 staff); Hanover Terrace in Hanover (21 residents, 15 staff); St. Joseph Residence in Manchester (9 residents, 3 staff); and at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections Secure Psychiatric Unit in Concord (10 residents, 3 staff).

New Hampshire's hospitalizations and active case counts are now higher than at any other previous point in the pandemic. The state's COVID-19 deaths now total 544.

As outbreaks have spiraled across the country in recent weeks, many states have again begun imposing tighter restrictions on public assembly and have taken steps to shut down their economies. But Gov. Chris Sununu said he has no plans to do that in New Hampshire at this time, in part because of the economic toll such a shutdown would likely take.

"I'm not saying it could never happen, but I gotta tell you, we're nowhere near that, and there's no plans for that right now because of those negative effects,” Sununu said at a Concord press conference Thursday.

Meanwhile, state health officials say they are preparing for the imminent delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine and expect New Hampshire could get its first delivery of vaccines within the next couple of weeks. Moderna and Pfizer have both applied for emergency use of their vaccines, which have been found to be highly effective in trials. Sununu said first batches of the Pfizer vaccine could arrive in New Hampshire in the second or third weeks of this month, and the Moderna vaccine could arrive in the final week of December.

State health officials say they don't know exactly how many doses will be coming, but they estimate it could be anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 doses in the next few weeks. Those first doses will go to the state’s highest risk health care workers, as well as first responders and residents of long-term care settings. Over 100,000 people are in New Hampshire's highest-risk category.

State health officials also announced Thursday that New Hampshire will reduce the recommended quarantine period for those who may have been exposed to COVID-19. That's in line with a new CDC recommendation that those exposed only have to quarantine for 10 days, down from 14 days. Chan noted, however, that the state would not adopt the CDC's recommended test-out-of-quarantine guidance.

"The testing resources and the testing supplies need to be targeted to those most in need, those who may be developing symptoms of COVID-19 and need testing,” Chan said. “So logistically the capacity to test everybody exposed to COVID-19 is limited."

The quarantine period now aligns with the recommended isolation period, for those who have tested positive for COVID.

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