Coronavirus Blog: Earlier Updates (Beginning April 16)

Apr 16, 2020

This post gathers NHPR's past updates on coronavirus in New Hampshire with a date range from April 1, 2020 through April 15, 2020

NOTE: Some of the stories below may contained outdated guidance and stories that have since evolved. Please click the links below for the most up-to-date coverage and guidance. 

Earlier updates (Beginning April 16):

3 more COVID-19 deaths, 2 new outbreaks at nursing homes
77 new cases bring New Hampshire's total to 1,864

Update: Sunday, April 26, 7 p.m.

Positive test results for COVID-19 in New Hampshire, as of April 26
Credit N.H. DHHS

The state announced 77 new positive tests for COVID-19 on Sunday (April 26), bringing the total number of cases in New Hampshire to 1,864. Several cases are still under investigation, the state says.

Of the new cases with complete information, four of the patients are under the age of 18, and the rest are adults. Of the adults who tested positive, 68% percent are female, and 32% are male, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Four new hospitalizations were announced, bringing total hospitalizations of New Hampshire patients diagnosed with COVID-19 to 242, or 13 percent of identified coronavirus patients.

Click here for NHPR’s breakdown of COVID-19 cases and testing in New Hampshire.

The regional breakdown of new cases is: 24 in Rockingham County; 41 in Hillsborough County (including 14 in Manchester and six in Nashua); four in Strafford County; three in Merrimack County; one in Grafton County; and one in Sullivan County.  The county of residence has not yet been determined for three of the new cases.

- NHPR Staff

Revenue down, costs up in N.H. towns

Update: Sunday, April 26, 3:40 p.m.  

Towns and cities in New Hampshire have seen revenues decrease during the coronavirus pandemic, but some costs are going up, including providing emergency aid. In a survey by the New Hampshire Municipal Association, 40 percent of towns that responded said that they’ve already seen an increase in welfare expenses.

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Margaret Byrnes is the executive director of the municipal association. She says in many cases, towns are trying to help residents find housing. But that can be difficult in areas where there aren’t available shelters.

“And so you’re seeing municipalities pay hotel rates, room rates to give shelter to people who are unable to pay, as well as food costs,” she says.

Municipalities are also paying more for emergency services and technology. At the same time, many towns have seen revenue shortfalls from motor vehicle registrations, building permits, and parking fees, and they’re anticipating an increase in people not paying their property taxes.

“That can have long-term impacts on the town: not having as high of reserves, not having money on hand and having things be much tighter than they would have been otherwise,” Byrnes says.

Byrnes says municipal leaders are also concerned about the potential cuts to state aid, highway block grants and meals and rooms tax distribution.

- Daniela Allee

7 deaths, 69 new confirmed cases in N.H.

Update: Saturday, April 25, 4:59 p.m.

Coronavirus in N.H., town by town.
Credit N.H. DHHS

State health officials announced 69 additional confirmed cases of coronavirus Saturday, as well as seven deaths, which is the highest number of deaths reported in a single day since the outbreak began.

Sixty residents have now died from COVID-19.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services reports the additional seven deaths were residents 60 years old or older.

There are currently 95 people hospitalized in New Hampshire due to COVID-19, which is also a single-day high.

Fourteen of the new cases are hospitalized.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state is now 1,787. Click here for a high-resolution map showing town-by-town cases.

Of the seven additional deaths, three women and a man were residents of Strafford County, and two women and one man were residents of Hillsborough County.

About 17,000 residents of New Hampshire have tested negative for the coronavirus.

- NHPR Staff 

Delegation urges prisons not to release sexual/violent offenders

Update: Saturday, April 25, 4:30 p.m.

New Hampshire's congressional delegation is urging the state's correctional system not to release anyone convicted of domestic or sexual violence during the pandemic.

Correctional facilities around the country have been releasing incarcerated people in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 inside of jails. In a statement, the New Hampshire delegation say they want local officials to issue clear guidance prohibiting the early release of any domestic violence offenders.

They cite the recent release of an inmate with a violent record from Carroll County as posing a threat to public safety and the safety of previous victims.

- NHPR Staff

Panel named to prepare for possible patient surge

Update: Saturday, April 25, 3:15 p.m.

More than 30 health professionals will serve on a newly created medical advisory committee.

The committee, which was created through emergency order issued by Gov. Chris Sununu, will provide guidance to health care providers about how best to handle COVID-19 related issues. It will establish recommendations for the triage of critical health care resources in the event of a patient surge exceeding a hospital's available resources.

It will also make recommendations to the governor about the health crisis. The committee consists of doctors, public health officials, ethicists, lawmakers and long-term care facility leaders.

It isn't clear when it will hold its first meeting.

- Todd Bookman

Bow drive-thru voting

Update: Saturday, April 25, 2:00 p.m.

Voters in Bow cast ballots via drive-thru voting for the annual school district meeting Saturday (April 25). NHPR's Josh Rogers reports from Bow High School that the process was going smoothly when drivers started lining up. Residents are voting on a $30 million school budget, among other things. COVID-19 compatible procedures were adopted to hold the meeting.

Poll workers wore masks and gloves. Bottles of hand sanitizer stood at the ready, and many voters, like John Blackadar, seemed pleased with the process. "I don't know who thought this up, but it's a great idea. Thank you for being creative," he said. 

Bow's school budget vote was originally scheduled for March. Bow was among the many communities who postponed town votes due to COVID-19.

The school district warrant articles were presented to voters via a live-stream presentation earlier this week. Public comment on the budget were collected by phone and email.

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WMNF closes high-use trailheads, day-use areas

  Update: Saturday, April 25, 9:09 a.m.

Credit WMNF

The White Mountain National Forest is closing several high-use trail heads and day-use areas until further notice. The closures include some dispersed recreation facilities.

The WMNF remains open, but officials are urging the public to hike or walk locally during the state's emergency order and stay-at-home order.

The growing concern is increased exposure to coronavirus, with what's described as an unseasonably high number of visitors to the national forest.

"As the warmer weather approaches, the forest continues to see increased visitation at recreation sites, trailheads and trails," says Connie Carpenter, WMNF Acting Forest Supervisor. "It is difficult to practice physical distancing and maintain high use sites to CDC guidelines." 

Trails are open, but they are only accessible by foot traffic.

- NHPR Staff

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Sununu extends state of emergency

  Update: Friday, April 24, 5:38 p.m.

Governor Chris Sununu has extended the state of emergency for another 21 days.

The original order was issued on March 13, when New Hampshire had six diagnosed COVID-19 cases.

Today, the number of diagnosed cases in the state stands at 1,720, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Additional orders from the governor Friday require insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to be more flexible as a part of COVID-19 response.

The orders also ensure workers compensation for first responders exposed to COVID-19.

And another order allows recently-retired employees to return to their employers without a waiting period.

- NHPR Staff

N.H. reports 2 additional deaths, 53 new cases

 Update: Friday, April 24, 5:01 p.m.

New Hampshire health officials on Friday announced two additional deaths from coronavirus, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the state to 53. 

The Department of Health and Human Services says the deaths were in Rockingham and Strafford counties, and both men were 60 and older.

With 53 new positive test results, the total number of coronavirus cases in New Hampshire climbs to 1,720.

Six of the new cases required hospitalization. To date, 224 people have been hospitalized due to coronavirus, or 13 percent of the total known cases. (Click here to view a larger, high-resolution map of town-by-town cases in N.H.)

The state says 578 people have recovered after being infected with the virus.

More than 16,000 residents in New Hampshire have tested negative for coronavirus. As of Friday, 2,250 people were being monitored.

- NHPR Staff 

Merchants discuss reopening the economy

  Update: Friday, April 24, 4:35 p.m.

Nancy Kyle, of the Retail Merchants Association, stressed that store owners want to reopen, but only when it's safe to do so. She spoke Friday to the governor's task force examining how best to reopen the economy when various emergency orders and restrictions are lifted.

Kyle urged the group to not consider reopening on Memorial Day weekend, and said whenever the state does reopen stores, it should start midweek to give everybody time to adjust to their new reality - including those businesses along the Massachusetts border.

"Especially those on the southern tier are going to have problems, because of Massachusetts being a hot spot - 41,000 cases, just over the southern border is a huge population," she said.

Kyle predicted that getting laid off retail workers back to work will be a problem, as many can collect more on enhanced unemployment than they earned on the job. She suggested mounting a PR campaign, when the time comes, to convince the public it's safe to go shopping again. She also proposed a hotline for store owners to seek advice on best practices to ensure shoppers are safe.

- NHPR Staff

Nashua ramps up testing

Update: Friday, April 24, 4:06 p.m.

The city of Nashua says it is ramping up coronavirus testing and outreach. Mayor Donchess announced Friday the city will soon add four staff to the city's health department to expand emergency and health services related to the pandemic.

Nashua will pay for the new hires with a grant from the CDC Foundation, which recently received a $15 million donation from the social media platform TikTok.

Public Health Director Bobbie Bagley says the city will also start offering pop-up testing sites, once a week, at a soup kitchen or community hub. She says the idea is to increase access to vulnerable residents who otherwise wouldn't be tested.

"We're making sure that individuals who don't have cars, don't have primary care providers, may not have insurance - we can offer those tests in our community," she said during a news conference. Bagley says they have had a hard time getting enough test kits but that Nashua should get more through the additional federal aid coming to New Hampshire.

- Sarah Gibson

Rise in unexplained infant deaths in N.H.

Update: Friday, April 24, 3 p.m.

The state Office of Child Advocate is urging parents to practice safe sleeping practices, after a rise in unexplained infant deaths in New Hampshire.

Director Moira O'Neill says this increase may be a result of new habits formed during the stay-at-home order. Since February, the OCA has received reports of two infant deaths that may be associated with unsafe sleep practices.

O'Neill says advocates in other New England states are seeing a similar trend.

"It's possible that if people change their routines and they're napping during the day or they're drinking alcohol when they're taking care of their kids, they may be more likely to fall asleep with their infants in the same sleep environment, like their bed or a sofa," she says. "And that really enhances the opportunity for the death of an infant."

- Alex McOwen

President signs $484 billion coronavirus aid bill

  Update: Friday, April 24, 1:07 p.m.

President Trump has signed the $484 billion coronavirus aid recovery and relief bill to further support small businesses, workers, health care facilities and testing for COVID-19.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who negotiated the small business assistance provisions in the bill, says the package helps smaller businesses that may lack a relationship with a big bank.

It includes $75 billion in grants for health care providers and $25 billion to ramp up coronavirus testing. New Hampshire will get at least $17 million from this testing fund, Shaheen says.

- NHPR Staff

Related story: Kuster Says Economic Relief Bill Will Be Lifeline for Some Small Businesses

Delegation highlights need for VA claim review

  Update: Friday, April 24, 12:21 p.m.

New Hampshire's congressional delegation is raising concern after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it is ending its current 48-hour review period for claim determination.

The delegation wrote the VA, following criticism the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars leveled over the proposed changes.

"We are deeply concerned that the VA is phasing out this quality review mechanism in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Staff assisting veterans are working at remote locations with fewer resources during an ever-evolving situation. Our country is facing an unprecedented emergency, and confusion during this crisis only leads to further frustration."

Read the letter

- NHPR Staff

USNH enacts policy changes to address COVID-19 fiscal issues

  Update: Friday, April 24, 11:30 a.m.

The UNH Wildcat statue, with face mask, on the Durham campus on April 19.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The University System of New Hampshire has enacted three new policies to address fiscal issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, including a new furlough policy for workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The new furlough policy "allows campuses to place eligible employees, pursuant to a written notice, on an unpaid furlough of up to 120 days (subject to earlier recall based upon business needs)," according to the document. This will remain in place through Dec. 31, 2020.

The USNH board approved the policies earlier this month to assist with the "cash preservation," University of New Hampshire President Jim Dean writes. 

The fiscal challenges at UNH involved the university refunding $27.2 million to students in pro-rated dining, housing and student fees, Dean notes.

- Dan Tuohy

Sununu tells towns, cities to be careful with budgets

Update: Friday, April 24, 10:41

Gov. Chris Sununu says towns and cities should not expect federal coronavirus relief funds will make up for any lost revenues.

He said the state just received guidance from the U.S. Treasury on how New Hampshire can spend more than $1.25 billion in federal aid.

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There is flexibility to administer funds to address COVID-19 related expenses to small businesses, non-profit groups, public institutions, and cities and towns. It cannot, however, "backfill" budgets, either for local government or the state, he says.

"Cities and towns must be very careful in how they approach, not just today's budget, but future budgets," he said. "The days of spending like it's 2018 are behind us," he said.

- Josh Rogers

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Scammers targeting PPP

Update: Friday, April 24, 9 a.m.

Scammers are targeting small businesses with a promise of access to paycheck protection loans, says U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a co-author of the Paycheck Protection Program. The program is designed to provide forgivable loans to help small businesses and their workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Collins says scammers are promising guidance and advice about getting a loan, and asking for a fee. 

The loan has no application fee.

Related story: Congress passes latest economic relief package to confront coronavirus

Update: Thursday, April 23, 6:15 p.m.

Positive tests for coronavirus in New Hampshire, as of April 23.
Credit N.H. DHHS

New Hampshire has had three more deaths related to COVID-19, all three related to known outbreaks at long-term care or nursing homes. Dr. Ben Chan, the state epidemiologist, said Thursday (April 23) that the total number of deaths in the state is now 51. 

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Sixty percent of the deaths involve residents at institutional facilities or settings, he says.

The addition of 84 new positive test results brings the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 1,670 in New Hampshire, with 218 requiring hospital care at some point, according to Chan.

Chan said the state Department of Health and Human Services does not believe New Hampshire is seeing an increase in community-based transmission. It is not an increase in the spread of coronavirus, rather, it is an increase in testing, he says.

Chan says 800 to 900 people are being tested a day, about double the daily rate from a week ago. Expanded testing is a key strategy to identify, respond to, and contain COVID-19 across the state, he says.

The state also announced two additional outbreaks at long-term care, institutional centers. Derry Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center had eight residents and five staff members testing positive for the virus. At Pleasant Valley Nursing Home in Derry, four residents and three staff members tested positive, said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

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Shibinette provided an updated on existing outbreaks at five facilities:

  • Bellamy Fields in Dover: 33 residents and 10 staff have tested positive
  • Easterseals in Manchester: 44 residents and 56 staff tested positive
  • Hanover Hill in Manchester: 47 residents and 40 staff tested positive
  • Huntington at Nashua: 23 residents and 17 staff tested positive
  • Salem Woods: 21 residents and five staff tested positive

New Hampshire saw single-day highs in both the number of new infections and COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday. 

- NHPR Staff 

Sununu wants to maintain planned business tax cuts.

Update: Thursday, April 23, 6:10 p.m.

Governor Chris Sununu doesn’t want plunging state tax receipts due to the coronavirus pandemic to undo a planned round of business tax cuts. Sununu says he will ask lawmakers to preserve the planned reductions to the state’s main business taxes even if the state fails to meet the revenue targets called for by law.

Business tax rates were a key point of friction in the fight over the last state budget. The final deal kept tax cuts that Sununu prioritized and that Democrats opposed, but it conditioned the rate reductions on the state hitting certain revenue targets.

Governor Sununu says the financial blow from COVID-19 makes that impossible, but says it would be wrong to ask businesses to forgo the tax cuts.

“When they are strained to the hilt, asking them to put more, in taxes to the state is absolutely wrong. It’s the wrong approach and the wrong thing to do,” Sununu says.

Sununu said he would ask lawmakers to “revoke” tax increase triggers included in current law. As of yesterday evening, lawmakers had yet to receive a formal request from Sununu. But Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who is also running for governor, was quick to criticize Sununu as going back on his word, and prioritizing the interests of corporations over those of the people.

- Josh Rogers

Federal aid is trickling down to businesses and care providers

Update: Thursday, April 23, 5:40 p.m.

New details emerged Thursday on how federal coronavirus aid is trickling down to New Hampshire's small businesses and healthcare facilities. State officials discussed federal aid options for a range of sectors at Thursday’s stakeholder advisory group meeting of the governor's COVID-19 response board.

They said around 1,400 healthcare providers in the state have received $164 million in federal grants from a fund to cover their lost revenue and coronavirus response. The initial rollout of that fund, which totals $100 billion nationwide, focused on providers with high rates of Medicare reimbursement. The state said other kinds of providers will receive grants in the next week or so.

On the advisory board call, Lisa English of the Department of Health and Human Services said this kind of federal funding total may “sound huge,” but so is the economic toll of the pandemic.

“That has to be looked at in the context of the incredible losses,” English said.

Meanwhile, she said more than 11,000 New Hampshire small businesses got about $2 billion in federal payroll protection or PPP loans before initial funding ran out. NHPR is among the organizations who received loans through the program.

Officials are still waiting on state-level data to see what kind of companies received most of that money, and what sectors missed out on the loans before federal funding dried up.

- Annie Ropeik

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Sununu says COVID-19 funds can't be used to backfill state budget

Update: Thursday, April 23, 5:25 p.m. 

Governor Chris Sununu says federal money meant to help New Hampshire address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic can't be used to plug holes in state and municipal budgets.

Speaking in Concord this afternoon, Sununu said the more than $1 billion New Hampshire is getting from Congress is meant to provide direct relief to businesses, non-profits and others harmed by the health emergency. But he said federal guidelines say that money can't be used to offset drops in revenues due to a slowdown in business activity.

Sununu said later federal relieve packages may allow for greater flexibility in how that aid can be used.

- NHPR Staff

Hospitality industry backs phased-in approach to reopening

Update: Thursday, April 23, 4:31 p.m.

A task force created to outline the best way New Hampshire can safely reopen its economy heard a presentation Thursday from one of the hardest hit sectors: the hotel and restaurant industry.

Mike Somers with the N.H. Lodging and Restaurant Association told the Governor's Economic Re-Opening Task Force that he would support a multi-step plan that could see restaurants begin serving customers outdoors as early as May 5.

Since Governor Sununu's emergency order March 16, restaurants and bars in N.H. have been prohibited from serving customers on-site, prompting some businesses to close or reduce hours, or rely 100 percent on take-out and delivery - like Durbar Square in Portsmouth.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A second phase, when it is determined safe to implement, would permit indoor dining and the reopening of hotels, though, with strict limitations on social distancing. Personal protective equipment would be provided for staff, and they would be screened for a fever or any symptoms before beginning their shifts.

Hand sanitizer would be made available to customers. Menus would need to be either disposable or laminated to ensure they can be disinfected. Hotel gyms and pools would remain closed, as would any buffet-style food offerings.

Somers said even a small volume of customers, if they can be kept safe, is vital.

"Frankly, we are in survival mode, and this is just about trying to help them get to the other side," Somers told the committee, which is made up of lawmakers and a variety of industry representatives. 

The hospitality industry is one of the state's largest employers, with about 70,000 jobs in New Hampshire. It is also a major driver of tax dollars, with the meals and rooms tax accounting for $360 million in revenues. 

Somers told the committee that he expects those tax receipts to fall by 90% for April and May. Approximately 30,000 workers have been laid off or seen their hours reduced, he said.

The task force is hearing from a range of industries this week and next. The retail and manufacturing sector will present on Friday. Public comment is scheduled for May 1.  Gov. Chris Sununu will have the final say for when steps to reopen will be implemented. He said he will work with neighboring states to ensure there is a coordinated approach, which could include opening different regions of the state up at different times.

- Todd Bookman

Schools spent over $40 million in response to COVID-19

Update: Thursday, April 23, 4:11 p.m.

The New Hampshire Department of Education says schools spent at least $40 million on pandemic-related expenses in the first three weeks of remote learning.

Since school closures on March 16, the state DOE has asked districts to document "extraordinary expenses" related to the coronavirus.

This includes hardware and Internet purchases for students and teachers, and the delivery of meals to students at home. It also includes payment for services that were contracted but aren't being provided, such as salaries for staff who aren't working now that buildings are closed.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut says about 80 percent of public schools have submitted expenses, which add up to about $40 million for the first three weeks of remote learning.

This exceeds the $37.6 million in federal coronavirus aid that New Hampshire is expecting soon for its K-12 schools.

The state DOE says it is in the process of figuring out what expenses are eligible, so that when the federal funds arrive, districts will receive at least partial reimbursement.

- Sarah Gibson

N.H. to get more funds to boost testing

Update: Thursday, April 23, 2 p.m.

New Hampshire will receive at least $17 million for more coronavirus testing from the next federal aid package, according to the state's congressional delegation.

The delegation says President Trump is expected to sign the bipartisan bill.

The legislation also directs the administration to put out a plan to expand access to virus testing.

That access has been patchy so far in New Hampshire. The state now has more than 1,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

- Annie Ropeik

Related story: Tracking COVID-19 Cases and Testing in New Hampshire

State releases some demographic data on COVID-19 patients

Update: Thursday, April 23, 11:00 a.m.

New Hampshire public health officials are releasing the first demographic breakdown of residents infected with COVID-19. It shows the virus is disproportionately affecting the state’s black and Hispanic population – in line with how the pandemic has spread in many other parts of the country.

Black residents account for 5.4% of coronavirus cases so far, but are just 1.4% of New Hampshire’s population, according to U.S. Census data provided by the state.

The pattern is similar for Hispanic and Latino people, who make up 6.1% of cases but just 3.9% of the population.

Manchester and Nashua are home to by far the greatest number of the state's Black and Hispanic residents. These cities have also seen high rates of coronavirus infection – each has more cases than any New Hampshire county besides Rockingham.

Across the country, Black and Hispanic people are more likely to have chronic health conditions, lower incomes and less access to healthcare – all aspects of structural racism that can elevate risks from COVID-19.

Communities of color are also more likely to have higher levels of air pollution, which, recent research shows, may correspond to higher coronavirus death rates.

Eighty-one percent of the state’s COVID-19 infections are among white residents, who make up 90% percent of the state. Asian people account for 3.2% of cases and 3% of the population.

People of all other races – including indigenous and mixed-race people – make up 4.4% of the state’s coronavirus infections and only 1.8% of the population.

The state says it knows racial information for 80% of patients who have tested positive.

Residents of Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties remain the hardest hit by the pandemic. The new state report also shows that healthcare workers continue to account for a third of all infections.

People in their fifties account for the greatest number of cases – more than 300. People aged 60 and older make up a smaller percent of the state’s cases, but are far more affected, proportionately, than other age groups.

- Annie Ropeik

Summer fairs canceled

Update: Thursday, April 23, 10:30 a.m.

Some summer fairs In New Hampshire have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Stratham Fair is annually the first in a season of fairs that stretches into October, but the event, scheduled for July, has been called off.

The annual Lancaster Fair, held during Labor Day weekend, has also been canceled.

- NHPR Staff

Six more COVID-19 deaths bring state's total to 48

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 6:30 p.m.

Positive tests for coronavirus in New Hampshire, as of April 22, 2020
Credit N.H. DHHS

Six more people have died of coronavirus in New Hampshire, the state announced Wednesday (April 22).

Two of the patients were male residents of Rockingham County, three were males from Hillsborough County, and one was a female resident of Strafford County. All were over 60 years old.

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The Department of Health and Human Services also announced 99 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state's total positive test results to 1,588. Several cases are still under investigation, DHHS says.

Of the new cases, 23 of the patients are under the age of 18.

Click here for NHPR's breakdown of COVID-19 testing and results in New Hampshire.

The regional breakdown of new cases is: 27 in Rockingham County; 53 in Hillsborough County (including 38 in Manchester and five in Nashua); six in Strafford County; four in Merrimack County; and three in Cheshire County. The county of residence has not yet been determined for six of the new cases.

Seven new hospitalizations for COVID-19 were announced, bringing total hospitalizations in the state to 213, of 13% of total cases.

- NHPR Staff

Two ICE detainees released over coronavirus concerns

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 5:50 p.m.

A federal judge has ordered the release of two immigrants detained at the ICE facility in Strafford County's jail, citing concerns about susceptibility to the coronavirus.

The two detainees are named plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and five private law firms last week. The lawsuit asks all 62 ICE detainees in the jail be released on bail, arguing that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE cannot ensure social distancing and proper hygiene at the jail during the pandemic.

All the detainees are currently involved in federal immigration proceedings.

Judge Landya B. McCafferty, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire, made the decision today after a telephonic conference. A hearing is scheduled on Thursday morning to determine whether attorneys working with the ACLU can access discovery to determine the identities and health conditions of the remaining detainees.

- Sarah Gibson

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School districts will get money to offset special education costs

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 5:20 p.m.  

The New Hampshire Department of Education is sending a million dollars to school districts to help with special education costs during remote learning. Many school districts expect an increase in their special ed costs this summer and fall, as they work to get students with disabilities back on track after school closure.

The grants are based on student population and range from three to twenty-five thousand dollars. The money can be used for technology, software, and other services to support remote learning for special ed students.

The money is left over from federal grants New Hampshire received in previous years, before the pandemic.

- Sarah Gibson

Hospitality leader says N.H. tourism industry in dire straits

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 4:35 p.m.  

The head of the New Hampshire lodging and restaurant association says the coronavirus has had a catastrophic impact on local tourism.

Mike Somers spoke to a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers on the governor’s emergency relief and recovery board Wednesday (April 22). He said the industry will need significant help from the state just to survive.

"We suspect that it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed just to prop businesses up. This does not make them whole by any measure - it will allow them to get through this and come out the other side," he said.

Somers says restaurants and hotels will also need significant marketing help to convince consumers that its safe to go out to eat and travel - whenever that day comes.

- Lauren Chooljian

Democrats' lawsuit over Sununu spending dismissed

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 2:49 p.m.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by top Democratic lawmakers over federal COVID-19 funding.

The suit challenged Gov. Chris Sununu's power to spend more than $1.25 billion without legislative review or approval. In his 16-page opinion, Superior Court Judge David A. Anderson granted Sununu's motion to dismiss, writing that stopping or delaying the governor from distributing funds  in the midst of a global pandemic would be contrary to the public interest. As such, he concluded the lawmakers' lacked standing.

Sununu, in a press release after the order was issued, said it "is paramount that we get relief out to New Hampshire families fast, and that is what I am determined to do."

House Speaker Steve Shurtleff and Senate President Donna Soucy argued the governor was cutting out the legislature, in approving receipt and expenditure of the federal funds.  Sununu is a Republican. Democrats are in majority control of the Legislature.

The Democrats, which included Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord and Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, contend the judge got it wrong. "The legislature constitutionally holds the 'power of the purse,'' and the Joint Fiscal Committee  is the body that legally approves proposed spending requests by the executive branch during an emergency," the four said in a statement. They claim Sununu is allowing "a cloud of constitutional uncertainty to persist" over how the federal money is spent.

- NHPR Staff

Jasper: USDA working to help seasonal workers

Update: Wednesday, April 22, 10:59 a.m.

Shawn Jasper, the commissioner of the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, says he does not believe President Trump's plan to suspend immigration will prevent seasonal agricultural workers from arriving in New Hampshire.

He says his understanding is that the government will continue to approve the H2-A visas that allow seasonal workers to enter the country. But he does think there may be other challenges ahead due to COVID-19.

"We have a lot of Jamaican workers, and they're primarily in the orchards in New Hampshire, so that's not an issue yet, but they can't get flights out of Jamaica," he says. "So that may become more of an issue than anything that the president is talking about."

Jasper, the former Republican Speaker of the House in New Hampshire, says the USDA has been working to make sure seasonal workers arrive in time for growing season, and has already relaxed certain rules, such as those that require workers to return to their home country for a period of time in the hopes it can prevent workers who are already here from getting stuck outside the U.S.

- NHPR Staff

44 new coronavirus cases identified in New Hampshire

Update: Tuesday, April 21, 3:45 p.m.

Positive tests for coronavirus in New Hampshire, as of April 21.

The state announced 44 new positive test results for COVID-19 in New Hampshire on Tuesday (April 21), bringing the total cases to 1,491.

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According to state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan, 206 of the state's patients  - or 14% - have been hospitalized as a result of the virus. There were no new deaths announced Tuesday.

“I am thankful to say that our numbers remain relatively stable. We continue to see a plateau in the number of new cases being diagnosed and the number of hospitalizations,” Chan said.

Chan said that there have been about 70-75 people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state on a daily basis over past two weeks.

Click here for NHPR's breakdown of COVID-19 testing and results in New Hampshire.

“While our numbers have been stable, we have not yet seen a decline in the overall spread of COVID-19 in our communities, so it’s critically important for people to continue their social distancing efforts, to stay at home when able, to only go out for essential items like groceries or for medical needs,” Chan said.

Task force to plan for reopening state's economy

Gov. Chris Sununu announced the formation of the Governor's Economic Reopening Task Force Tuesday. The group was formed to examine the question of when to reopen New Hampshire businesses, which have remained closed an under emergency order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Related: What does New Hampshire's stay-at-home order mean?

Sununu said the task force is composed of legislative and business leaders, and that no date has been set for reopening the economy.

"We've always known this could potentially be months," Sununu said.

Read more here.

- NHPR Staff

Click here to make a donation to support NHPR's reporting.

CMC furloughs hundreds of workers

Update: Tuesday, April 21, 3:40 p.m.

Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, one of the state’s largest hospitals, is announcing furloughs and pay cuts for more than 40% of its staff as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

CMC is placing 423 employees on a 60-day furlough starting Sunday. Another 914 employees will have their hours cut.

Related: Some New Hampshire hospitals "barely keeping the lights on"

Affected employees will retain their health insurance. People who work in hospital management are also taking a pay cut.

In a statement, CMC says emergency preparations for the coronavirus has resulted in more than half of the hospital’s inpatient beds being empty each night. The hospital says it lost about $11 million in March alone and that federal relief funds haven’t been enough to make up the difference.

CMC has applied for a loan from the state’s emergency healthcare system relief fund but hasn’t heard back yet.

- Jason Moon

Help NHPR report on the coronavirus

Update: Tuesday, April 21, 1:51 p.m.

Are you on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus? NHPR is looking for information and sources to help us tell the story of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Hampshire. Please take this brief survey. NHPR will not share your information without your permission.

- NHPR Staff

N.H. hiring health staff for contact tracing

Update: Tuesday, April 21, 12:21 p.m.

The state is hiring dozens more public health workers to help track and contain the spread of COVID-19.

There are currently about 70 state employees doing contact tracing, the process of identifying and warning people who were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Speaking with NHPR's The Exchange, state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan said the state is increasing contact-tracing staff by between 50 and 70 percent.

"You know, increased testing is really only helpful if we can follow up those tests with the public health contact tracing," Chan said.

He says contact tracing will be a key part of the state's strategy to stamp out any new hot spots of the virus.

- Jason Moon

State urges Granite Staters to wear face masks in public

Update: Tuesday, April 21, 11 a.m.

State health officials now say New Hampshire residents should wear cloth face masks or coverings when out in public.

In a document released Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services says it is recommending the use of face masks now because of mounting evidence that people who show no symptoms are spreading the virus.

The CDC began recommending widespread use of cloth face masks in early April.

The state document recommends wearing cloth masks on trips to the grocery store or other crowded areas. It says they're not necessarily needed for walks around the neighborhood, but people are advised to bring face masks along on those walks just in case.

- Jason Moon

State announces one death, 56 new coronavirus cases

Update: Monday, April 20, 6:55 p.m.

Positive test results for COVID-19 in New Hampshire as of April 20.
Credit N.H. DHHS

The state has announced one more death from COVID-19, bringing the state's total deaths from the virus to 42. The patient who died was female, over 60, and a resident of Rockingham County.

Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter to get the latest updates.

The N.H. Department of Health and Human Services says there are 56 new positive test results for coronavirus in the state. That means there have now been 1,447 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

There are three additional hospitalizations, which means a total of 201 patients - or 14% of people diagnosed in the state - have been hospitalized.

Of the newly-diagnosed patients with complete information, all are adults, the state says.

The geographic breakdown of new cases is: 17 in Strafford County; 9 in Rockingham County; 25 in Hillsborough County (including 14 in Manchester and 5 in Nashua), and one each in Cheshire and Merrimack Counties. The state says the counties of residence are still being determined for three of the new cases.

- NHPR Staff

Click here to make a donation to support NHPR's reporting.

State's healthcare providers experiencing financial strain

Update: Monday, April 20, 6 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created financial strain for hospitals across New Hampshire, including budget shortfalls and mass furloughs.

But New Hampshire’s independent medical providers are struggling, too, according to James Potter with the New Hampshire Medical Society. He says federal and state relief funds thus far have had a minimal impact.

"I think if many of the smaller practices don’t have some kind of infusion of capital we will see a closing of those practices or essentially having to sell those practices to larger entities," he says.

Potter was one of several health industry representatives who briefed the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery on Monday, April 20. The panel was created to decide how to spend coronavirus-related relief funds.

- Casey McDermott

New round of testing for long-term care workers in N.H.

Update: Monday, April 20, 5:45 p.m.

Responding to outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities, state health officials are rolling out a new round of testing to all employees of such facilities in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties this week.

But Brendan Williams, who represents the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, said Monday that this new round of testing will only go so far.

"I think it’s very well intended and it’s nice that the state is supporting that, but again it is just a snapshot and as I said we need a motion picture," he says. "Because if you test people today, tomorrow is very different."

An analysis by NHPR found that New Hampshire has one of the lowest rates of testing of any state in New England.

Williams was one of several health industry representatives who briefed the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery. That panel was created to decide how to spend coronavirus-related relief funds.

- Casey McDermott

N.H. businesses have received $2 billion in COVID-19 relief loans

Update: Monday, April 20, 5:00 p.m.

New Hampshire lenders have issued more than $2 billion in loans through the now-depleted federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to the New Hampshire Bankers Association.

Citing numbers from the Small Business Administration, the New Hampshire Bankers Association said Monday (April 20) that a total of more than 11,500 such loans have gone out in the state so far.

The Paycheck Protection Program - also referred to as PPP - was created to help businesses continue to pay their employees during the ongoing health emergency. Initially funded with more than $300 billion, it ran out of money last week.

NHPR is among the New Hampshire businesses that have received assistance from the federal PPP program.

- NHPR Staff

Dartmouth's summer term will be remote

Update: Monday, April 20, 4:30 p.m.

Dartmouth College announced that its summer term will be remote. The college's provost said that the progression of the coronavirus, a geographic disparity in its containment, and lack of adequate testing factored in to the decision.

Typically, sophomores at Dartmouth take classes on campus in what's called a "sophomore summer." Dartmouth says those students can have that experience in the summer of 2021.

The college also canceled athletic camps and other on-campus programs for the summer.

- Daniela Allee

Related story: How are New Hampshire's colleges and community colleges adapting? Check out today's edition of The Exchange.

State to receive $3 million in emergency election funding

Update: Monday, April 20, 2:30 p.m.

New Hampshire is in line to receive more than $3 million in emergency federal election funding through the CARES act, the massive coronavirus relief package passed by Congress last month.

While the state hasn’t finalized plans for that money, New Hampshire election officials say their goal is to use part of it to help municipalities send and process an influx of absentee ballots.

In a letter to the federal Election Assistance Commission, the Secretary of State’s office also said they hope to use the money to buy personal protective equipment for election officials.

The state recently issued guidance saying that any New Hampshire voter will be able to cast an absentee ballot due to COVID-19. Local election officials say they'll need extra support from the state to accommodate that increase.

- Casey McDermott

Hearing today on who has power to spend federal COVID-19 funds

Update: Monday, April 20, 10:40 a.m.

A judge will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit over the question of which branch of government gets authority to spend the federal coronavirus relief money coming to New Hampshire.

Top Democrats in the New Hampshire House and Senate filed suit against Governor Sununu last week. They say the constitution guarantees lawmakers the final say over state spending.

The governor said on NHPR's Morning Edition today that a state law passed in the wake of 9/11 gives him absolute authority over spending decisions during a state of emergency.

"There are certain times when the governor - whether it's myself or any other governor - needs powers to - and abilities to move dollars very quickly and to respond with very severe actions. And given this worldwide pandemic, unfortunately we're in that situation," Suununu said.

More than $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid is headed to New Hampshire.

- Mary McIntyre

Three more deaths; 50 new positive test results for COVID-19

Update: Sunday, April 19, 5:50 p.m.

Coronavirus cases by New Hampshire town as of April 19, 2020
Credit N.H. DHHS

The state announced three new deaths from COVID-19 in New Hampshire on Sunday (April 19), including one female from Hillsborough County, and two residents of Rockingham County, one female and one male. All three patients were over 60 years old.

Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter to get the latest updates.

The Department of Health and Human Services also says 50 new cases of coronavirus have been identified in the state, bringing New Hampshire's total to 1,392. Six of the newly identified patients were hospitalized.

This brings total COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state to 198, or 14% of the total cases. Three percent of the state's identified patients have died from the virus.

Click here to make a donation to support NHPR's newsroom.

The regional breakdown of the new cases is: 13 in Rockingham County; 29 in Hillsborough County (including 17 in Manchester and eight in Nashua); two each in Merrimack and Strafford Counties, and one each in Belknap and Cheshire Counties.

DHHS says the county of residence has not yet been determined for the two remaining patients.

- NHPR Staff

Survey: 1/3 of New Hampshire workers affected by coronavirus

Update: Sunday, April 19, 3:25 p.m.

A new survey from UNH and Dartmouth College shows a third of working New Hampshire residents have either lost their jobs or had their hours cut as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and workers without college degrees have been the hardest hit.

Of those surveyed, 17% of workers with a high school diploma or less reported having lost their job, while 25% said their hours were cut. That's more than double the rates of people with postgraduate degrees.

Despite those economic impacts, more than two-thirds of all respondents said that maintaining social distancing was more important than restarting the economy.

Click here to read the full story.

- Jason Moon

Reports of internet service being disconnected for some N.H. customers

Update: Sunday, April 19, 2:00 p.m.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has received a handful of calls from people around the state that say their internet has been disconnected.

Governor Chris Sununu’s third emergency order prohibits services like internet, electricity and gas from being disconnected during COVID-19 despite non-payment.

Brandon Garod works at the Consumer Protection and Antitrust bureau at the AG’s office. He says so far, the office has been able to work out the disconnections directly with the internet providers.

“None of the companies have been knowingly violating the governor’s order," he says, "in the sense that we haven't had an instance where somebody says, 'yeah I know I'm not allowed to do it but I'm going to do it anyways.'"

Garod says some companies have automatic disconnections for non-payment and may not have caught them in time.

The AG’s office says if a company is knowingly violating the emergency order, it can bring criminal charges or other enforcement actions against them.

- Daniela Allee

56 new cases include two males under 18 years old

Update: Saturday, April 18, 4:46 p.m.

New Hampshire reported an additional death from COVID-19 on Saturday, and the state confirmed 56 new cases, including two males under 18.

Thirty-eight residents have now died from the coronavirus, the latest being a woman, who's over 60, from Hillsborough County.

The state now has 1,342 known cases of COVID-19. Several others remain under investigation.

Two new cases required hospital care, bringing the total hospitalizations to 192, or 14 percent of the 1,342 confirmed cases.  Nine of the new cases had no identified risk factors, indicating community-based transmission continues to increase, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

- NHPR Staff

Sununu seeks to dismiss Democrats' suit over spending

  Update: Saturday, April 18, 4:31 p.m.

Attorneys for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu have filed a motion to dismiss a lawusit brought by top Democrats in the Legislature over who has the authority to spend federal coronavirus relief money.

At issue is whether Sununu needs the approval of state lawmakers to spend any of the $1.25 billion in federal aid headed to New Hampshire.

In the filing, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald argues the current emergency leaves Governor Sununu no time to wait for legislative approval before making each spending decision. 

- Jason Moon

Crowd protests N.H. stay-at-home order

Update: Saturday, April 18, 4:11 p.m.

Protesters beeped their car horns and gathered outside the New Hampshire State House on Saturday to demonstrate against Gov. Chris Sununu's stay-at-home order.

More than 100 people crowded out in front of the State House in a clear violation of Sununu's order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Attorney Dan Hynes was among those who attended. He's also filed a lawsuit to stop Sununu's executive orders on the pandemic.

Hynes says the crisis is being blown out of proportion and that Sununu's limits on gatherings violate the constitution.

"I personally agree with Trump that the cure can't be worse than the disease and this lock-down, it's one-size-fits-all, it's not a good approach," he said. Despite the size of the crowd, there was no attempt by police to break up the event. 

- Jason Moon

State working on crisis guidelines for medical workers

Update: Saturday, April 18, 3:02 p.m.

State officials say they are working on new guidelines for medical providers to use in case they become overwhelmed with patients and have to make difficult choices about who gets treatment.

Gov. Chris Sununu activated the state's process for developing crisis standards of care for hospitals and other providers. These temporary guidelines could help medical providers make difficult triage decisions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Next week, New Hampshire Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette will begin appointing a panel of experts to write these crisis standards. The panel will include doctors, lawyers, ethicists, and others.

The state says the new standards will be based on principles of fairness and survivability, and will not discriminate on demographic factors like race, religion, or ethnicity.

- Jason Moon

Shipment of 500,000 face masks lands in Manchester

Update: Saturday, April 18, 1:11 p.m.

New Hampshire received a shipment of more than 500,000 face masks today. 

Gov. Chris Sununu says the personal protective equipment is part of the deal that inventor Dean Kamen brokered earlier this month that delivered 91,000 pounds of PPE to New Hampshire. The two men were joined by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, and Boeing President Dave Calhoun as the face masks arrived at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Saturday.

Boeing is paying to transport the equipment, and Sununu says the supplies will be distributed to areas of greatest need in New Hampshire at no cost to the recipients.

- NHPR Staff

Sununu talking with NHL about possible games in Manchester

Update: Saturday, April 18, 10:44 a.m.

Governor Chris Sununu says he's in very preliminary talks with the National Hockey League about the SNHU Arena in Manchester serving as a neutral, TV-only site for potential NHL games.

The league suspended its season last month but is exploring ways to possibly resume play.

"These discussions aren't even really happening yet. I don't think the NHL is there. They are having discussion internally, I guess. Really, we are just so far off that we are not really at that point to understand what the benefits to ourselves or the NHL or what those dynamics might be."

So far, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the SNHU Arena to cancel more than a dozen events. It was the site of minor league pro hockey for close to 20 years and has hosted preseason games for the Boston Bruins.

- NHPR Staff

ACLU seeks release of immigrants detained in Dover jail

Update: Friday, April 17, 8:45 p.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire is seeking to have Strafford County Jail in Dover release all immigrants detained there by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The ACLU-NH filed a class action lawsuit Friday on behalf of the approximately 60 immigrants in custody at the Dover jail, which contracts with ICE to house immigrants involved in federal immigration court processes.

The petition alleges that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE cannot ensure social distancing and proper hygiene at the jail during the pandemic.

It says the conditions of the correctional facilities - including shared bunk beds, bath rooms, and a cafeteria – put detainees at an increased risk of coronavirus infection if they remain there, and it claims that ICE can continue to monitor immigrants even if it releases them from the jail.

The national ACLU has filed similar lawsuits across the country; a spokesman said so far, over 70 people have been released in 10 states as a result of the lawsuits.

-Sarah Gibson

 

COVID-19 deaths rise to 37

Update: Friday, April 17, 5:45 p.m.

New Hampshire's state epidemiologist announced three additional deaths Friday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the state to 37. Dr. Ben Chan said two of the three residents were associated with known outbreaks at long-term care facilities.

One death occurred at the Hanover Hill Health Care Center, a nursing home in Manchester. The second death was at The Huntington at Nashua. Chan says 12,852 residents have been tested. He reports 76 new positive test results, which increases the total number of known coronavirus cases in the state to 1,276.

The state also identified a new outbreak. At the Easterseals' Gammon Academy in Manchester, a residential facility serving people with developmental disabilities, 16 residents and 16 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

A majority of the positive tests were asymptomatic, according to Maureen Beauregard, president and CEO of Easterseals in New Hampshire. In a statement, she indicated Easterseals had four additional people testing positive, for a total of 36.

"We continue to operate this residential facility," she said in a statement. "Our clients have no other option or accommodations available to them and continue to remain under our supervision and care."

Shibinette says the state recently changed its approach to testing at facilities like Easterseals. If one resident is diagnosed with COVID-19, the state is now testing all residents in that particular unit, regardless of symptoms. "It allows the department to identify facility outbreaks quicker and with more accuracy," she says.

- NHPR Staff

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State changes approach to testing at facilities

Update: Friday, April 17, 5:31 p.m.

State epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan says the state's health agency is changing its approach to testing at long-term care facilities.

Until this week, the state encouraged facilities to only test those who were symptomatic.

"What we want to do is increase testing to move from more of a general prevention standpoint to a containment strategy going in and testing all the residents because we know there's the possibility of asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission," he says.

Chan says this expanded testing can inform how facilities manage an outbreak. That might involve isolating people who have tested positive at a facility and identifying staff who may be symptomatic to prevent them from treating someone who doesn't have COVID-19.

The state's new testing strategy comes as multiple facilities across the state are battling outbreaks of COVID-19, with one new cluster at a Manchester facility for individuals with developmental disabilities announced Friday.

- Casey McDermott

N.H. gets grant to address mental health needs

Update: Friday, April 17, 5:30 p.m.

New Hampshire has received a $2 million federal grant to help those dealing with mental health and substance use disorders during COVID-19.

The state's Department of Health and Human Services says it will use that money to launch a system providing crisis intervention for those individuals.

The New Hampshire Rapid Response System will primarily address the needs of uninsured or underinsured individuals through the state's existing community mental health system.

- Daniela Allee 

Superior court cancels jury trials

Update: Friday, April 17, 4:30 p.m.

New Hampshire is now canceling jury trials at the superior courts indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The order will now last until about 30 days after the courts resume "normal operations," according to a press release. Criminal and civil jury trials were initially only canceled through early June.

The court's press release says no one should be reporting for jury duty right now.

Residents with jury duty scheduled after June 8 should check the state courts website before coming in. Canceled trials will be rescheduled once the courts resume normal business.

- Annie Ropeik

Additional hospitals get emergency funds

Update: Friday, April 17, 3:30 p.m.

Five more hospitals have received emergency funds from the state of New Hampshire. The state has set up a $50 million loan fund to help hospitals address the financial fallout of COVID-19.

The newly announced recipients are Cottage Hospital, Weeks Medical Center, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital, Androscoggin Valley Hospital, and Exeter Hospital.

The first state-issued hospital loan went to Laconia-based LRGH Healthcare two weeks ago. About $7 million has also been loaned to 40 other smaller health care institutions across the state, officials said Friday.

- Daniela Allee

New outbreaks involve at-risk populations

Update: Friday, April 17, 2:06 p.m.

Residents of long-term care facilities account for dozens of the state's COVID-19 cases, and almost half of the deaths in New Hampshire.

The state on Thursday identified three new long-term care facilities that are dealing with outbreaks. All serve people with special care needs. At The Residence at Salem Woods nursing home, 21 residents and four staff members tested positive. And all are tied to the facility's memory care unit, according to a spokesman.

At Bellamy Fields in Dover, which specializes in care for people with Alzheimer's disease, 12 residents and eight staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Dr. John Hopkins, who owns the facility, says that is up from earlier in the week. He spoke of the challenges for these residents.

"When you have people with Alzheimer's who like to touch everything and walk around and leave the water in the sinks running, and plant and replant the flowers - they are very busy people," he said.

The state is conducting more tests there Friday, April 17.

At the Institute of Professional Practice in Concord, which treats children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, one resident and six staff members have tested positive for the virus. Three other long-term care facilities in the state had already reported COVID-19 outbreaks.

Identifying the challenges facing nursing homes during the pandemic, the state of New Hampshire introduced measures to try to stem COVID-19 infections at the facilities. They include mobile testing for nursing home workers in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties.

- Josh Rogers

No reported infections at N.H. Veterans Home

Update: Friday, April 17, 11:18 a.m.

As nursing homes remain high-risk areas for outbreaks, the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton has so far reported zero infections among its 160 residents. 

Veterans Home Commandant Peggy Labrecque says that, as of Thursday, 13 residents have been tested - all results returned negative. She says veterans with fevers and respiratory illnesses are isolated as they await testing.

"I worry every day and I'm up a lot at night worrying that we will have an outbreak here," she says. "It feels like not if, but when."

Labrecque says the New Hampshire Veterans Home is accepting donations  of small-sized N95 masks, washable or disposable gowns, and large or medium gloves. 

- Peter Biello

Low-income workers feel sting of COVID-19 crisis

Update: Friday, April 17, 10:44 a.m.

A report by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute finds the initial economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have disproportionately affected the state's low-income earners.

The report says the state's three largest employment sectors -- health care, retail and food services -- have been severely impacted. Phil Sletten, a senior policy analyst at NHFPI, says some of these workers still have not recovered from the 2008 recession.

"And that means they may not have much of a financial cushion, if any savings that they would be able to draw upon in this time when their incomes and their livelihoods are likely quite disrupted by the crisis that we see today," he says.

Sletten says economic relief policies enacted by the federal and state governments have helped, but more action will likely be needed in both the short term and long term.

-Alex McOwen 

Senators urge VA to help veterans connect remotely

Update: Friday, April 17, 10:02 a.m.

Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen are urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide updated guidance for veterans trying to connect to health care providers remotely.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the senators say many of the veterans most at risk from COVID-19, elderly veterans or those with underlying conditions, have never used telehealth services.

The Manchester VA has been encouraging greater use of telehealth services during the pandemic.  The CARES Act provided the VA with more than $2 billion to support the growth of telehealth.

New Hampshire's senators are asking Wilkie to explain how the VA is using that funding to boost telehealth efforts. 

- Peter Biello

Rally to protest stay-at-home order

Update: Friday, April 17, 9:59 a.m.

A rally in front of the State House is planned for Saturday afternoon to protest Governor Sununu's stay-at-home order.

Event organizers say they will voice their opposition to the current emergency order, which they say restricts their freedom to assemble, work, and travel.

It's unclear how local police will respond to the event, which could violate the governor's order, which limits gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Two more deaths; three care center outbreaks; N.H. schools to remain closed

Update: Thursday, April 16, 5:30 p.m.

Coronavirus cases in New Hampshire
Credit N.H. DHHS

Two more people have died from COVID-19 in New Hampshire, the state announced today (Thursday, April 16). DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette also announced 71 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total 1,211.

Click here to see our tracker of coronavirus cases in New Hampshire.

Thirty-four people have now died in the state. The deaths announced today were both patients over 60 years old, a woman from Hillsborough County and a man from Rockingham County.

Shibinette also announced three new outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care and residential facilities in New Hampshire: the Institute of Professional Practice in Concord, The Residence at Salem Woods in Salem, and Bellamy Fields in Dover.

The Institute of Professional Practice had two residents, one in a residential program, one in a day program, who tested positive for COVID-19. One resident died, and six staff members were infected, Shibinette said. They have not had positive cases for several days, she said.

The Residence at Salem Woods had 21 residents and four staff members test positive, while Bellamy Fields in Dover had five residents infected, along with five staff members, according to Shibinette.

New Hampshire schools are closed until the end of the year

Gov. Chris Sununu has ordered that remote learning at New Hampshire schools will be extended through the end of the academic year. 

Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter to get the latest updates.

Sununu previously ordered schools to be closed through May 4 to slow the spread of COVID-19. He said during the news conference Thursday that public health experts now realize how prevalent transmission of the virus can be, and with people who are asymptomatic.

"You could have an entire classroom of kids passing COVID back and forth without a single symptom, without a sniffle, you wouldn't even know it," he said.

The governor said decisions about summer learning programs and September classes have not been made. He notes that students returning in the fall may need extra educational help. In a letter to education leaders in the state, Sununu said there is no model available at this time "to responsibly ensure the safety of our students, our educators, faculty, and staff."

"We also know that it is heartbreaking for our high school seniors who have worked so hard over the course of their academic careers to get to this point, only to have the celebrations that they and their families were looking forward to enjoying not materialize," Sununu writes. "That said, public health officials and the safety must be paramount in our decision-making."

Click here  for more of NHPR’s coverage of how New Hampshire schools and students have been affected by coronavirus.

- NHPR Staff

Report: COVID-19 disproportionately affecting low earners

Update: Thursday, April 16, 5:20 p.m.

A report by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute finds that the initial economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have disproportionately affected the state’s low-income earners. According to the report, New Hampshire’s three largest employment sectors are health care, retail, and food services, all of which have been severely impacted as a result of COVID-19. (Click here to read the report.)

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Phil Sletten, Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute, says workers in these industries already earned lower than average wages before the crisis began, and many still haven’t fully recovered from the 2008 economic recession.

"That means they may not have much of a financial cushion, if any savings that they would be able to draw upon in this time when their incomes and their livelihoods are likely quite disrupted by the crisis that we see today," Sletten says.

- Alex McOwen

Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter to get the latest updates.

Guard to help with mobile testing unit

Update: Thursday, April 16, 3:02 p.m.

State health officials announced Thursday the N.H. National Guard will assist in a rapid coronavirus mobile testing unit next week.

The state previously said it had obtained 15 rapid testing machines, but that the federal government didn't include necessary testing cartridges. Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette told reporters they have now received enough to use one of the machines.

"Most likely our focus is going to be on vulnerable populations, and long-term care facilities," she said. "It typically has about a five-minute turn around on those tests."

Long-term care and assisted-living facilities continue to remain at heightened risk. The state announced three clusters inside facilities Thursday: the Institute of Professional Practice in Concord, The Residence at Salem Woods in Salem, and Bellamy Fields in Dover. (SEE ABOVE for more reporting on those clusters.)

- Jason Moon

North Country hospitals get emergency funds

Update: Thursday, April 16, 2:40 p.m.

The state has released $2.5 million in new emergency loans to keep three hospitals in the North Country from going out of business. The money comes from a fund of taxpayer dollars established recently by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster and Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook each received $750,000. Cottage Hospital in Haverhill received $1 million.

Combined with an earlier loan to LRGH Healthcare in Laconia, the state has now loaned out a total of $7.5 million to hospitals.

The loans to these four hospitals already account for 15% of the total emergency fund. More than 250 health care organizations in the state have applied for relief.

- Jason Moon

Judge sides with Sununu in lawsuit hearing delay

Update: Thursday, April 16, 2:00 p.m.

UPDATE: A Superior Court judge has granted Gov. Sununu's request to delay the hearing in a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers seeking to put guardrails around his power to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“The Court appreciates [the] Plaintiffs' desire to resolve the underlying dispute as quickly as possible and plans to issue an order consistent with the time constraints identified in the objection," Judge David Anderson wrote in his decision.

"But, given the importance of the issues associated with the injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs, the Court also understands the governor’s desire for a short continuance and the court does not believe a continuance from Friday afternoon to Monday morning will prejudice either side.”

The hearing has been rescheduled for Monday, April 20, at 8 a.m.

- Todd Bookman  

Earler update: Thursday, April 16, 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Chris Sununu is asking a Superior Court judge to delay a hearing scheduled for Friday in a case that will decide which branch of government has the authority to spend the $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money New Hampshire is slated to receive later this month.

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The lawsuit was filed earlier this week by top Democrats in the Legislature, who argue it is the role of that body to appropriate money. Sununu, along with Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, contend that a 2002 law gives the governor widespread authority to allocate resources during a state of emergency. (Click here for our earlier reporting.)

In an emergency motion filed Wednesday, Sununu requested that the hearing be rescheduled to early next week to allow his legal team more time to prepare.

“The complexity of the legal issues coupled with the demands on those working to combat the pandemic make preparing a fulsome response and conducting a hearing with just four days’ notice unworkable,” writes MacDonald on behalf of the governor.

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MacDonald informed the court that he plans to call witnesses, at least one of whom has worked 31 consecutive days inside the state’s emergency operations center.

Democrats, however, filed their objection to the delay Thursday morning, noting that with the federal funds set to arrive next week, time is of the essence.

“It is in the best interest of the people of New Hampshire for a speedy resolution as to how these taxpayer dollars may be legally spent during this crisis. Postponing the hearing would only continue the uncertainty of how economic relief should be properly and swiftly provided to New Hampshire residents,” that filing says.

Sununu has already established a committee called the Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery, or GOFERR, to help advise him on how best to allocate the federal stimulus money. The GOFERR has already begun meeting telephonically. Its membership includes many of the top Democrats in the legislature involved in the lawsuit.

It isn’t clear when the court may rule on when the hearing will take place.

- Todd Bookman

Elliot, Southern New Hampshire hospitals lay off hundreds of workers

Update: Thursday, April 16, 9:35 a.m.

Elliot Hospital in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire in Nashua are the latest health care entities to announce furloughs.

The hospitals, which combined in 2017 under the name Solution Health, will temporarily layoff about 650 employees, and reduce the hours of about 750 additional staff members. Certain managers will also see a pay reduction.

In a statement, Sherry Hausmann, President and CEO of SolutionHealth, said the decision to stop all non-essential activities in mid-March, and the need to invest in training, equipment and treatment beds, will result in the loss of more than $24 million per month.

“While we do not regret doing all that we can to prepare for the predicted surge of patients to be sure that we are ready to, literally, save lives, we now must take action to reduce these unsustainable losses to ensure our viability for the future,” Hausmann wrote.

The changes affect about 20% of the health system’s 7,000 workers.

LRGH Healthcare, which runs hospitals in Laconia and Franklin, has also announced employee furloughs, as hospitals nationwide struggle to generate revenue with most non-essential procedures put on hold.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association estimates that hospitals statewide are losing approximately $200 million in revenue due to the coronavirus.

- Todd Bookman

Hearing scheduled on lawsuit aiming to curb Sununu's power to spend federal funds

Update: Thursday, April 16, 9:30 a.m.

A hearing has been scheduled for Friday in a lawsuit seeking to block Republican Gov. Chris Sununu from spending federal COVID-19 relief funds without lawmakers' permission.

Democratic leaders of the New Hampshire Legislature sued the governor this week arguing that only the Legislative Fiscal Committee, a group of lawmakers authorized to accept and expend money, has the power to spend the $1.25 billion the state is expected to get.

Sununu counters that state law grants him authority to take immediate action during a crisis, including creating the Governor's Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery to disburse the money.

-NHPR staff

Details emerge on impacts to state departments

Update: Thursday, April 16, 9:25 a.m.

New details on New Hampshire's response to COVID-19 emerged Wednesday on a conference call between state agencies and legislators. It was the first meeting of a new legislative advisory board on the state's response to the pandemic. A parade of different agency heads offered the latest on how their slice of the government has been affected.

Officials with the Department of Safety said they have 70 staff members who are in quarantine and unable to work. That's on top of 76 other local emergency workers who are also quarantined.

Legislators also heard the first public accounting of how many ventilators are in New Hampshire. Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette says it's about 900, including pediatric ventilators.

“I like the number we have right now,” Shibinette said. “I would love it if it was about 100 more. And I would be really happy if it was about 300 more.”

Shibinette said the state has been trying to purchase more ventilators for six weeks with no success.

- Jason Moon

State universities and colleges already seeing financial impacts

Update: Thursday, April 16, 9:20 a.m.

New Hampshire's top education official is warning lawmakers about economic consequences of the pandemic at state universities.

After campus closures last month, the University of New Hampshire, Keene State College, and Plymouth State University reimbursed students for room and board costs and other fees.

State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut addressed the issue Wednesday on a call with a new legislative advisory board for the state's coronavirus response. Edelblut said these reimbursements will mean a major loss of revenue for the state university system.

New Hampshire is expected to get $36 million in federal aid for pandemic recovery efforts at college and universities.

-Sarah Gibson