Coronavirus Blog: Earlier Updates (March 20 - March 31) | New Hampshire Public Radio

Coronavirus Blog: Earlier Updates (March 20 - March 31)

Mar 26, 2020

This post gathers NHPR's past updates on coronavirus in New Hampshire with a date range beginning on March 20th, 2020. Click here for updates from March 3-19th.

NOTE: Some of the stories below may contained outdated guidance and stories that have since evolved.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 (March 20, 2020 through March 31, 2020):

53 new cases reported; N.H. total climbs to 367

Update: Tuesday, March 31, 6:51 p.m.

The state announced 53 additional people in New Hampshire have tested positive for coronavirus. The new statistics brings the total number of cases to 367.

One of the 53 people is a male under 18, and four of the new cases were hospitalized. The Department of Health and Human Services reports 24 of the new cases have no identified risk factors, indicating community-based transmission continues to increase in New Hampshire.

Of the 367 confirmed cases, 56, or 15%, have recovered. Another 1,250 people are being monitored in the state.

- NHPR Staff

MTA suspends regular bus service

Update: Tuesday, March 31, 5:11 p.m.

Manchester is suspending its regular public bus service in response to the coronavirus. Starting Wednesday, April 1, the Manchester Transit Authority will no longer run public buses on its fixed route.

Passengers needing transportation for essential travel can call 603-623-8801 to book a trip with the MTA from 5:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.

The MTA says ridership has fallen by around 70% during the pandemic, and many of its buses were riding empty. 

The change is in effect until May 4.

- Sarah Gibson

COAST Suspends Its Bus Service

The Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation has decided to suspend all fixed bus routes until May 4.

COAST says it will work with customers to reimburse those who already purchased a monthly pass for April, and it says it will continue to operate paratransit services for individuals who qualify.

New applicants for those services will continue to have their applications reviewed as normal.

- Daniela Allee

State gives 10% raise to Liquor Store workers

Update: Tuesday, March 31, 4:31 p.m.

The state is temporarily giving a 10% wage increase to N.H. State Liquor Store employees.

In an executive order announced Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu cites the liquor stores as an essential business that provides critical revenue for state coffers.

Due to a staffing shortage, the state's 77 retail stores are operating under reduced hours. A notice on the Liquor Commission's website says the agency is currently seeking part-time workers.

Under the emergency order, store managers, clerks and laborers will receive a 10% wage increase throughout the duration of the state of emergency, dating back to March 13.

Sununu says closing the liquor stores would only further jeopardize public health, as it would force residents to travel to other states to obtain alcohol.

- Todd Bookman

Child care providers can apply to seek emergency designation

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is accepting applications from child care providers seeking designation as emergency child care programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DHHS is partnering with the Charitable Foundation to provide $4 million in federal funding for an Emergency Child Care Collaborative. The collaborative will provide emergency child care for parents providing essential services during COVID-19 such as health care workers.

Child care programs that are granted emergency designation will be eligible for payments to cover additional staff and operating costs.

- Alex McOwen

State gets $82 million for schools from federal stimulus funds

Update: Tuesday, March 31, 1:35 p.m.

New Hampshire is receiving over $82 million in federal funds to help K through 12 schools and colleges during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is part of "CARES" act, which President Trump signed into law on Friday.

About half the aid will go to the state department of education, to be distributed as grants to individual school districts. Colleges and universities with a high percentage of low-income students will get about $36 million - much of that will go to students in the form of emergency financial aid.

- Sarah Gibson

Sununu asks federal government for waiver on use of rehabilitation hospitals

Update: Tuesday, March 31, 12:30 p.m. 

Governor Chris Sununu is asking the federal government for a waiver to allow non-rehabilitation patients to use New Hampshire’s rehabilitation hospitals. 

The request is targeted to the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital Network, which has facilities in Portsmouth, Manchester, Nashua and Salem. 

In his letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the governor said that as emergency response scenarios to the current public health crisis have developed “it has become clear that our hospitals need additional relief from certain CMS rules and regulations in order to meet the demands of all Medicare, Medicaid and other beneficiaries seeking care.” 

The governor says that these hospitals are working with their host hospitals and strategic hospital partners in providing additional surge capacity to care for patients with acute medical needs. 

- Daniela Allee

New state data shows COVID-19 at community level

Update: Monday, March 30, 8:15 p.m.  

56 more people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in New Hampshire, bringing the state's total cases to 314. State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan announced the largest one-day increase in cases since the pandemic began at a press conference Monday.

"I want to stress again that, even if you live in a town where a map may not show that COVID-19 has been found to be circulating, that we would encourage people to operate under the assumption that COVID-19 is circulating in your community," Chan said.

So far, three people have died from COVID-19 in the state, all with pre-existing medical conditions. Chan said that 46 of the people diagnosed have recovered. Chan also said that approximately 5,700 tests for COVID-19 have been performed in New Hampshire to date. 

COVID-19 cases by community in New Hampshire, as of March 30, 2020.
Credit NH DHHS

For the first time Monday, state health officials provided details on the prevalence of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the town and city level (see map at left).

The state released a map with community-level ranges for confirmed cases of the coronavirus as part of its daily update on testing, hospitalizations, and other data regarding the spread of the virus.

While the map provided does not list the exact number of confirmed cases in each town, it does shed more light on the places experiencing the outbreak most acutely in New Hampshire.

While a press release accompanying the new map indicated that the state was also providing data on the age and gender breakdown of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in New Hampshire "effective immediately," a spokesperson for the state's health agency later clarified that the data is still being prepared and should be published on Tuesday.

- NHPR staff

Some state liquor stores to close

Update: Monday, March 30, 5:40 p.m.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission is temporarily closing at least eight stores and recruiting new part-time employees to deal with staffing shortages exacerbated by COVID-19.

Liquor stores in Milford, Jaffrey, Wolfeboro, Walpole, Lincoln, Hinsdale, Winchester and Swanzey will remain closed until further notice, according to the commission.

The state's liquor stores are officially deemed an "essential business" during the COVID emergency, and most locations remain open — though with reduced hours.

There has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 linked to any of the state's liquor stores at this time. But employees at multiple locations have chosen to stay home due to concerns about their own health or of their family members.

- Casey McDermott

Sununu announces increase in unemployment benefits

Update: Monday, March 30, 4:55 p.m.

At a press conference Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu said the state would use federal stimulus dollars to increase benefits for New Hampshire residents who have lost income because of COVID-19.

"For those on the pandemic unemployment assistance, we are increasing the weekly minimum benefit from $32 per week to $168 per week, per individual, to their weekly benefit, all 100% federally funded."

Sununu says people will receive benefits for 39 weeks. He also said that right now, the state is set to receive $1.25 billion in federal aid to blunt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

- Josh Rogers

Related: Gov. Sununu tweeted out this graphic, which includes more details on the expanded benefits:

A graphic explainer of the changes in New Hampshire's unemployment benefits, which Gov. Chris Sununu said were being paid for with federal stimulus dollars.

Small businesses will get to delay filing their state taxes  

Sununu also announced a delay in the deadline for filing state business taxes, pushing it back to June 15th, the same as the new federal tax deadline.

The change, Sununu said, would affect "approximately 98 percent of New Hampshire small businesses, as many continue to adapt to these unfortunate new realities of the COVID-19 crisis.

- Jason Moon

New Hampshire students will not take standardized tests this school year

Update: Monday, March 30, 4:05 p.m.

Students in New Hampshire will not take annual statewide assessments this spring because of coronavirus-related school closures. Governor Sununu announced today (Monday, March 30) that the state has a waiver from the federal government allowing it to postpone the tests.

The state's Department of Education got pushback last week from administrators and teachers for being one of the last states to ask for this exemption.

Department of Education commissioner Frank Edelblut says he is still looking into ways to measure student performance. He says the state will help 11th graders who had planned to take the SAT this spring take it later on this year.

- Sarah Gibson

Municipal leaders ask Sununu to waive interest on property taxes

Update: Monday, March 30, 2:55 p.m.  

Local leaders in Keene, Rochester, and Durham are asking Gov. Sununu to allow cities and towns to waive interest charges on property tax bills for up to three months.

Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon says without an executive order from Sununu, it’s unclear whether she has the authority to waive the normal charges for late property tax payments.

"Doing it city-wide I think could be problematic," she said. "And instead of facing a potential legal challenge, it would make it a lot easier if the governor would grant us this authority."

Dragon says granting an additional three months for property tax payments would not pose a serious threat to city finances in Keene. But she acknowledges that might not be the case in every community.

- Jason Moon

State won't waive annual vehicle inspection requirement

Update: Monday, March 30, 1:45 p.m.  

The state says it will not waive the annual vehicle inspection requirement for drivers. That's despite the governor’s order that people should stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A Department of Safety spokesperson says drivers are already able to request a two-day extension or a longer term one if they are out-of-state. Automobile mechanics are considered essential workers in New Hampshire, which means they can continue working during the stay-at-home order. 

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is giving a 60-day extension to drivers who have inspections due in March or April.

- Todd Bookman

A balancing act for New Hampshire's mental health providers

Update: Monday, March 30, 1:30 p.m.  

Mental health providers in the state say they're struggling to balance client needs with protecting people's safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jay Couture is CEO of Seacoast Mental Health, and president of the state Community Behavioral Health Association. She says some services in her field *have* successfully transitioned to tele-health. But it doesn't work for everything.

"If you are receiving a medication by injection, which we have probably 150 to 170 individuals for whom that's the case, you need to have a direct interaction with a healthcare provider who can give you that injection," she says.

Couture says her colleagues are still figuring out how to work in-person at group homes and injection clinics... without access to personal protective equipment.

- The Exchange

Number of N.H. healthcare workers with COVID-19 on the rise

Update: Monday, March 30, 12:05 p.m.  

New Hampshire state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan says that confirmed cases of COVID-19 among New Hampshire's health care workers have increased since last week, but he doesn't have an exact number.

Appearing on today's (March 30) edition of NHPR's The Exchange, Chan said this increase is to be expected.

"One of the groups that we're prioritizing testing for - where we're asking facilities and providers to provide testing for - are our healthcare providers," Chan said. "So we can expect that as testing increases, we can expect an increasing health care workers that do test positive."

As of last Thursday (March 26), the total case count for New Hampshire's health care workers was 33.

Chan says health care workers are coming into contact with the virus in a number of ways, including through travel and community-transmission, and that these numbers doesn't mean they're necessarily coming into contact with the virus in health care settings.

Click here to listen to the full interview on today's episode The Exchange.

Toll collection process changes in New Hampshire

Update: Monday, March 30, 11:25 a.m.

In response to COVID-19, the state is changing the way it collects money at toll plazas.

Starting today, New Hampshire toll workers will only accept exact change in cash lanes. If a customer doesn’t have the exact toll fare, they can pay online or by phone within seven days.

The Department of Transportation says there’s been less traffic traveling through the tolls, and cash lanes no longer need to be staffed 24 hours a day. Toll attendants will only be present from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

- Mary McIntyre

Third death from COVID-19 in New Hampshire; 44 new cases bring state's total to 258

Update: Sunday, March 29, 6:40 p.m.

A Rockingham County woman is the third person to die of coronavirus in New Hampshire. In a release issued Sunday, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said the woman was over 60 years old and had underlying health issues before contracting COVID-19. 

In what is by far the largest jump in case numbers so far, state health officials also announced 44 new positive test results for COVID-19 in the state.

The new cases are all adults, 25 women and 19 men. Five of the new patients were hospitalized for the illness. According to health officials, 15 percent of the positive cases identified in New Hampshire have required hospitalization so far.

The regional breakdown of the new cases spans the state, with 14 in Rockingham County, five in Strafford County, four in Merrimack County, two in Carroll County, two in Grafton County, one each in Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, and 15 in Hillsborough County. Of the Hillsborough County cases, seven are in Nashua and seven are in Manchester.

- NHPR Staff

Note: We will continue to update this developing story.

Manchester mayor's daughter tests positive for COVID-19

Update: Sunday, March 29, 6:20 p.m.

One of the daughters of Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig has tested positive for COVID-19.

In an email Sunday afternoon, Craig said her daughter learned last week that a friend from a recent study abroad program had tested positive. Craig said, given her interaction with the public, she and her daughter were tested for the illness. Craig said her test came back negative.

Craig said her entire household remains in self-quarantine and that none of her family members are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

A spokeswoman for Craig said the mayor has been working from home since the beginning of last week and will continue to do so, including delivering her budget address Monday from home and calling into this week’s aldermen meeting.

-NHPR staff

Hikers flock to popular N.H. spots

Update: Sunday, March 29, 4:15 p.m. 

The first weekend of Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home order saw a surge of hikers heading to popular trails in New Hampshire.

Some officials and conservation groups say that crowded trails could become a problem. Click here for more on this story.

Relief funds set up at UNH and Dartmouth

Update: Sunday, March 29, 1:20 p.m.

Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire have each set up emergency relief funds for their students affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dartmouth says the fund will provide support to undergraduates of "limited financial means" who are dealing with unexpected pandemic-related expenses not covered by the college's financial aid packages.

Dartmouth also says it hopes to raise half a million dollars for critical needs and says hundreds of students have sought financial help.

- Daniela Allee

27 more cases bring state's total to 214

Update: Saturday, March 28, 9:00 p.m.

State health officials announced 27 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire Saturday evening. That brings the state’s total number of known cases to 214.

The new cases are 17 adult females, 9 adult males, and one male younger than 18.

The majority of the cases were in Rockingham (11 cases) and Hillsborough (10 cases) counties, including three cases each in Manchester and Nashua. The remainder were in Merrimack (3), Grafton (2), and Strafford (1) counties.

Three of the new cases were hospitalized for their illness. To date, 33 people have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 in New Hampshire, and two people have died.

-NHPR staff

Shaw's workers test positive

Update: Saturday, March 28, 4:47 p.m.

Employees at Shaw's grocery stores in Dover, Littleton, and Woodsville have tested positive for COVID-19. The company declined to say how many employees tested positive for the disease. 

In an email, a Shaw's spokesperson said additional cleaning and disinfecting has been done at those stores, in addition to regular daily cleaning and disinfecting.

Shaw's says that employees must follow CDC guidelines for frequent hand washing and are asked to stay home if they're not feeling well.

Two Massachusetts Shaw's have also had employees test positive for coronavirus.

- Daniela Allee

Governor asks extended visitors to self-quarantine

Update: Saturday, March 28, 4:10 p.m.

Gov. Chris Sununu on Saturday issued a request for out-of-state visitors who arrive for non-work reasons and stay for an extended period to voluntarily self-quarantine. Governors around the country, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, have issued similar requests with the goal of limiting the spread of coronavirus.

The rest of Sununu's statement Saturday:

"This applies to individuals who come to New Hampshire for an extended stay at a hotel, vacation home, other vacation or home rental, or an extended stay with family or friends. This does not apply to individuals making same-day trips to New Hampshire for work, to purchase essential goods or services, or to check in on a close family member or friend."

- Dan Tuohy

N.H. courts limit access to buildings through May 4

Update: Saturday, March 28, 3:10 p.m.

The state's courts are limiting access to buildings through May 4, the same date for the end of Governor Sununu's stay-at-home order.

People will be allowed inside for a limited number of reasons, such as seeking emergency relief or participating in a scheduled hearing.

People who need to file documents can do so in areas at the entrance to each courthouse. Each person entering a courthouse will be screened by security for potential exposure to COVID-19.

-Daniela Allee

Hopkinton school employee tests positive for COVID-19

Update, Saturday, March 28, 12:01 p.m.

An employee at the Harold Martin School in Hopkinton has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The school district says the staff member's test does not coincide with any day students were at the school.

The individual was not involved in handing out school materials to families for remote learning.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is recommending that the school's faculty and staff self-monitor, by checking their temperatures and remaining alert for coughing or difficulty breathing.

- Daniela Allee

Additional guidance for N.H. retailers, realtors

  Update, Saturday, March 28, 9:30 a.m.

The state is offering additional guidance to retailers and real estate professionals amid New Hampshire's stay-at-home order, which is now in effect.

Retailers' facilities must be closed to the public, but retailers who are not otherwise deemed essential may choose to conduct business via curbside pick up or delivery for orders taken online, by phone, or by other remote means. On-site cash transactions are not permitted.

Under the updated order and directive from Gov. Chris Sununu, meetings for real estate transactions cannot occur at physical offices, but may take place with social distancing or remotely by phone, video, or other electronic means. Home showings may take place by appointment, and with social distancing. Real estate closings can continue, either by remote means or with the recommended social distancing.

Open houses are not permitted.

The list of essential businesses and employees is a living document, and it will continue to be updated, Sununu has noted.

- Dan Tuohy

N.H. reports second death related to COVID-19

Update, Friday, March 27, 6:30 p.m.

New Hampshire has seen its second COVID-19 related death.

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced the death Friday of a man from Hillsborough County. The state said the man, who was over 60, had multiple underlying health issues.

The state also reported 29 new positive test results, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire to 187.

The new cases are all adults, 19 women and 10 men. Sixteen of the cases have no identified risk factors, indicative of likely community-based transmission, according to Dr. Ben Chan, state epidemiologist.

Four of the new cases are currently hospitalized.

Budget Writers To Grapple With COVID Impacts On State Revenues

The New Hampshire Legislature has suspended full operations until at least May 4th, but a key panel of lawmakers is planning to meet remotely in two weeks in an effort to start addressing anticipated declines in state revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders of the Legislature’s Fiscal Committee have told Gov. Chris Sununu they want to help state agencies address pressing financial needs. But even that is proving a challenge, given the changes in government operations since the rise of COVID-19 in the state. 

Read full story here.

-Josh Rogers

Health care providers apply for state loans

  Update, Friday, March 27, 5:08 p.m.

More than 80 health care providers across New Hampshire have applied for emergency loans from the state. 

Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu announced a new $50 million emergency fund to shore up the state's medical system. So far, more than 80 have submitted applications for loans or grants.

A spokesperson for the state would not release details on which health care providers have applied, citing 'confidential commercial and/or financial information."

- Jason Moon

State to launch childcare collaborative

  Update, Friday, March 27, 4:46 p.m.

The state expects to open applications for an emergency childcare collaborative no later than Monday and hopes to launch one week after that.

Associate Health and Human Services Commissioner Christine Tappan says the state is trying to ensure families in all parts of the state have access to childcare, especially if they're on call to provide essential services during the COVID-19 crisis.

Through the new program, Tappan says the state is trying to match available childcare providers with families or employers who need more support. 

"The best examples right now are hospitals," she says. "We are working with several hospitals and long-term care facilities, nursing homes to set up childcare centers."

Childcare centers are designated as an essential business under Gov. Chris Sununu's stay-at-home order, and are allowed to remain open. Families looking for available providers can go to NH.childcareaware.org.

Read more here.

- Casey McDermott 

Stay at home order: essential businesses

  Update, Friday, March 27, 1 p.m.

New Hampshire's stay-at-home order, which kicks in at midnight, will not apply to the state's manufacturing sector, which is considered an essential industry that can stay open.

Neighboring states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, did not carve out as wide an exemption, only permitting manufacturers considered critical in the fight against coronavirus as essential business.

Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, says this decision was deliberate. "We really consider our manufacturing industry to be the bread and butter of our economy in a lot of ways -- being able to continue those operations is important for the companies operationally. Some of these companies are not things that you turn off and turn back on again."

Caswell emphasized that while manufacturers will be allowed to continue to operate under the state-at-home order, they must comply with CDC guidelines around social distancing.

- Todd Bookman

Related: N.H.'s Stay At Home Order: What Does It Mean?

Massachusetts Governor Asks Travelers to Self Quarantine

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker wants all travelers arriving in the Bay State to self-quarantine for 14 days to try to blunt the spread of COVID-19. Baker described his directive as an advisory - it carries no enforcement mechanism.

Baker says travelers entering Massachusetts will be given information fliers instructing them about the quarantine. 

- NHPR Staff

 

Sununu issues 2 more executive orders

Update, Friday, March 27, 11:35 a.m.

Gov. Chris Sununu issued two additional executive orders Friday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor is suspending the fingerprinting requirements of many criminal background checks. The order allows the N.H. Department of Safety to conduct fingerprinting on a case-by-case basis at the request of state and local agencies, but by appointment only.

All licenses or certifications issued during the ongoing state of emergency shall be conditional.

The order also authorizes the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue six-month drivers licenses to anyone who applies for renewal during the duration of the current state of emergency. It also modifies certain in-person licensing requirements, including the vision test and drivers education.

Sununu also issued an order extending remote learning for public schools. It will last at least until May 4.  In an interview Friday with NHPR, the governor said if the state is required to extend it beyond May 4, the state would probably end up closing schools for the rest of the year.

- Todd Bookman, Dan Tuohy

UNH extends enrollment deadline

Update Friday, March 27, 11 a.m.  

The University of New Hampshire is giving prospective students an extra month to enroll in classes and housing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNH announced Friday morning it would extend the enrollment deadline from May 1 to June 1.

In a press release, UNH's enrollment office said the move was meant to allow prospective students more time to make their decisions, in light of the evolving situation with coronavirus.

The university has suspended in-person events for admitted students but is offering virtual resources instead.

UNH is also postponing commencement to a future date yet to be determined, UNH President Jim Dean announced this week.

- Todd Bookman

COVID-19 cases in NH increase to 158

Update: Thursday, March 26, 7:40 p.m.

State health officials announced 21 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday evening, bringing the statewide total to 158 cases. 

The new cases include five adult males, 15 adult females, and one male under age 18. The new cases reside in Rockingham County (11 cases), Merrimack County (2), Cheshire County (1), Grafton County (1), and Sullivan County (1) counties. Four of the cases were in  Manchester, and one case was in Hillsborough County outside of Manchester and Nashua. Three of the new cases are currently hospitalized. So far, 25 of the 158 positive cases in New Hampshire have required hospitalization.

According to health officials, one of those cases was in a person who was at Honey Dew Donuts on South Broadway in Salem on the following dates and times:

• Tuesday March 17, 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.

• Wednesday March 18, 5:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

• Thursday March 19, 5:00 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.

State health officials said that any people who visited the Honey Dew Donuts on those dates and times may have been exposed to the coronavirus and should monitor themselves for fever or respiratory illness. Anyone who develops those symptoms should stay away from other people and immediately contact their doctor.

Officials also said that one person with COVID-19 attended an event on the evening of Saturday, March 14 in the Garrish Gym at Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood. Anyone who attended that event and develops symptoms should stay away from others and immediately call their doctor.

Of the total 158 known COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire, 33 are healthcare workers. Gov. Sununu cited that number as one factor in his emergency order closing non-essential businesses and requiring people in New Hampshire to stay at home. That order was released with a list of essential services.

-NHPR staff

Sununu issues stay-at-home order effective through May 4th

Update: Thursday, March 26, 4:14 p.m.

Governor Chris Sununu has issued an emergency stay-at-home order in effect from 11:59 p.m. tomorrow night (Friday, March 27) through May 4th in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Sununu announced the order at a press conference Thursday afternoon. The order also includes an extension of the closure of all state public schools until May 4th, nearly a month longer than planned.

Sununu said his mandate is not a "shelter-in-place" order, and that the order won't prohibit necessary travel, such as to purchase food and supplies. Essential businesses, such as grocery stores, will remain open. He said this was not a decision he made lightly. 

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

"We're only a couple weeks into this," Sununu said. "This could last a long time; it really could."

The governor also announced the closure of state beaches. Seacoast beaches and state parks have attracted large groups in recent days, prompting concerns about social distancing. Inland state parks will remain open at this time, though some areas, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, have closed in an effort to limit crowds.

During the stay-at-home order, Sununu says people should still feel free to go out and exercise, as long as they practice social distancing.

Read full story here.

- NHPR Staff

N.H. Attorney General warns of COVID-19 scams

Update: Thursday, March 26, 11:25 a.m. 

The New Hampshire Attorney General's office says people should be on alert for scammers trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The AG's office says scammers may try and sell fake treatment or prevention products that they say will ward off the virus, or they may try and establish fake charities.

The state is advising residents to do their homework before donating to any charitable causes.

There are currently no prescription or over the counter treatments that can cure COVID-19. Residents who think they may have been contacted by a scammer should reach out to the AG's office.

- Annie Ropeik

Teachers ask Sununu for help postponing statewide tests

Update: Thursday, March 26, 11:15 a.m.

Groups representing public school administrators and teachers are calling for the state to postpone student assessments this spring, in light of emergency school closures.

U.S. Department of Education told states they could apply for a waiver to defer tests required by federal law until the end of the national emergency. The DOE is streamlining the application process for states applying for the waiver; nearly all have applied, with the exception of New Hampshire.

Click here to read more on this story

29 new positive test results for COVID-19

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 5:45 pm

The number of known COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire has reached 137. State officials announced 29 new positive test results today.

The jump in cases is in part a reflection of additional testing capacity, as private companies, including LabCorp and Quest, are now testing in the state.

Nineteen people have required hospitalization, including six of the new cases. To date, there has been a single death attributed to COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

- NHPR Staff

Concord Coach suspends all services

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 5:15 p.m.

Concord and Dartmouth Coach Lines will suspend all bus service beginning Saturday, the company announced Wednesday.

“We do carry essential travelers, so this decision was not made lightly,” Concord Coach Lines Vice President Benjamin Blunt said in a statement. “We feel like we can and should support guidance that people should stay home and are concerned with the continued exposure of our employees and riders. We look forward to the day when we can resume our operations and support the travels of all our riders, but now is a time to stay home.”  

This week, state health officials announced that a passenger who rode in a Concord Coach bus four times between March 11 and March 16 tested positive for the coronavirus. The company says it immediately pulled the bus drivers from those routes from service, and that they are at home in self-isolation.

The state’s other major bus carrier, C & J, suspended its service last weekend.

Amtrak's Downeaster, which makes three stops in New Hampshire, is running on a reduced schedule. 

 

-Todd Bookman

 

As Maine beaches close, New Hampshire's Seacoast remains open to visitors

  Update: Wednesday, March 25, 5:10 p.m.

Four towns in Maine are closing their beaches due to coronavirus concerns – but so far, New Hampshire's beaches remain open.

 

The southern Maine towns of Kittery, York, Ogunquit and Wells will shut their public beaches to keep people from congregating.

 

In New Hampshire, state beaches remain open – but only to groups of fewer than five people. Some parking lots are also closed to limit crowds.

 

Visitors are encouraged to practice social distancing and remain six feet apart from people they didn't arrive with to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

 

Still, New Hampshire's beaches have been crowded in nice weather on recent days.

 

Earlier this week, selectmen in Rye voted against a recommendation, from their emergency manager, to close their town beaches.

 

The emergency manager's letter also urged the state to close its oceanfront parks to prevent people from flouting public health advice. 

-Annie Ropeik 

 

First round of state unemployment checks head out

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 4:50 p.m.  

More than 41,000 residents registered to receive unemployment benefits in the past week, a staggering figure ten times the levels seen during the height of the Great Recession.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Sununu issued an executive order clearing the way for most workers, including the self-employed, who see a reduction in earnings due to the coronavirus to qualify for benefits.

The first round of payments went out yesterday, a day ahead of schedule.

“The importance right now is that all these people that have filed claims get the money that they are entitled to within the time frame that we are supposed to give it to them,” N.H. Employment Security Commissioner George Copadis told the Executive Council today.

Copadis told the council that during the peak of the financial crisis in January 2011, the state received approximately 4,000 applications for unemployment assistance each week. He declined to forecast what the state’s unemployment rate could reach as impacts of the coronavirus ripple their way through restaurants, retail and other sectors of the state economy.

Under last week’s executive order, the state is waiving a number of regulations, including the requirement that those collecting benefits actively look for work. 

The state caps benefits at $427 per week. 

The state’s unemployment trust fund stood at approximately $300 million before the virus emerged in New Hampshire, a level considered healthy compared to other states.

-Todd Bookman

  

State faces ventilator shortage

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 2:25 p.m.  

As the spread of COVID-19 intensifies in New Hampshire and across the country, medical supplies like ventilators are in high demand.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told the Executive Council Wednesday morning that under normal circumstances, the state would rely on the Strategic National Stockpile for critical medical supplies. But since COVID is affecting so many states, that isn't an option right now.

"Tapping into the Strategic National Stockpile for everything we need has been challenging and we have not been able to get ventilators from them, so we have ordered some on the commercial market," Shibinette said.

Shibinette said New Hampshire has about 1,000 ventilators or machines that could be converted to ventilators. State officials are also combing through warehouses for old equipment that could be refurbished and are working with private manufacturers to fill in the gaps.

- Casey McDermott

N.H. joins other states in anti-price gouging effort

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 2:30 p.m.  

New Hampshire is joining 32 other states in asking online retailers - including Amazon and eBay - to crack down on price gouging.

The states are asking the companies to implement clear policies prohibiting a spike in prices by third-party sellers. Items like hand sanitizer have been offered at exorbitant prices by some vendors.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates on coronavirus in N.H.

Unlike the majority of states, New Hampshire doesn’t have its own law against price gouging.

Many economists oppose those laws, arguing that price controls contribute to hoarding and a mismatch between supply and demand.

- Todd Bookman

Sununu explores state tax filing extension, liquor store curbside pickup

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 2:00 p.m.

New Hampshire is exploring options for extending state tax filing deadlines to alleviate financial pressure on residents due to COVID-19.

Democratic Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli asked Governor Chris Sununu about the possibility of such an extension during Wednesday’s council meeting, pointing to a recent move by the IRS to extend the federal tax deadline from April to July.

The governor said he was already on it.

"I’ll be meeting with [Department of Revenue Administration] Commissioner Lindsey Stepp, some folks from the attorney general’s office and our office to see what flexibility we can and should provide," Sununu said. "It’s a great question. I think we’ll be able to do something on that front."

Sununu also said he is exploring options for curbside pickup for customers at New Hampshire's state-run liquor stores, which are a significant revenue generator for the state. More on that story here.

- Casey McDermott

Nashua suspends bus service

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 10:15 a.m.

The city of Nashua is suspending its regular bus service to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The city will continue to operate an on-call van service for people with essential jobs or those who need access to essential services – like grocery stores, pharmacies, or medical appointments.

People who are interested in using the service will need to call the city to make an appointment for pick-up. The fare for the service is one $1.25 each way.

N.H. non-profits already experiencing financial hardship

Update: Wednesday, March 25, 10:10 a.m.  

A survey conducted by the New Hampshire Center for Non-Profits found that 85 percent of the state’s non-profit organizations are already experiencing or expecting to experience financial hardships related to COVID-19.

Jennifer Pierson, Executive Director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, has already had to cancel two fundraising events and may have to cancel a third.

“It’s difficult. We’re a non-profit. We live off of fundraising. And having to cancel all of these events makes a big difference on our bottom line,” Pierson said.

The New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits survey also found that half are seeing an increase in staff and volunteer absences as a result of COVID-19, which impacts their ability to provide services.

- Alex McOwen

7 new coronavirus cases; Concord Coach bus riders may have been exposed

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 7:13 p.m.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services announced seven new positive test results for coronavirus in New Hampshire Tuesday night (March 24), bringing the state's total to 108.

The new cases are all adults - six males and one female. Three of the cases have no identified risk factors, indicating community transmission.

One of the patients among the new cases is hospitalized, while the remaining six are isolated at home. So far, 13  patients out of the state's 108 positive cases have been hospitalized.

DHHS also issued guidance regarding potential community transmission on Concord Coach Lines buses after it was determined a person with COVID-19 was a rider on the bus. Riders on the following buses should stay at home and monitor their health for fever or respiratory illness - and if symptoms develop, should contact their healthcare provider:

  • 3/11/20: 3:15 AM bus from Concord, NH – Boston Express Londonderry – South Station – Boston Logan Airport
  • 3/13/20: 5:40 PM bus from Boston Logan Airport – South Station – Concord, NH – Tilton – Plymouth – Lincoln – Littleton
  • 3/14/20: 5:00 AM bus from Concord, NH – Boston Express Londonderry – Boston Express Salem – South Station – Boston Logan Airport
  • 3/16/20: 1:40 PM bus from Boston Logan Airport – South Station – Concord, NH

- NHPR Staff

Sununu: No need for shelter-in-place at this time

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 4:45 p.m.

Governor Sununu says a mandatory shelter-in-place order is not necessary at this time in New Hampshire because many people are already limiting their travel. But he said today he may have to take stronger action as the coronavirus spreads.

With increased testing capabilities, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to increase significantly. Sununu says the peak may still be months away.

"We don't know when it's really going to hit its peak so until then we will have to be very, very vigilant about our personal responsibility, with our businesses and who we interact with and take the concept of social isolation very seriously," he said.

He opened the news conference today by bringing up the topic. The governor's office has heard from a few towns and cities, including the mayors of Manchester and Nashua, who request either a shelter-in-place order or stay-at-home advisory.

- Sarah Gibson

Local news outlet lays off staff

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 4:40 p.m.  

The local New Hampshire newspaper The Valley News will lay off some staff and scale back production due to virus-related economic impacts. The newspaper covers parts of western New Hampshire.

Publisher Dan McClory says in a statement that the toll of the pandemic is forcing them to reduce hours and let some staff go. He says they hope to reverse some of the changes once life returns "to some sense of normalcy."

For now, readers can expect to see fewer pages in print and less of some content online.

The Valley News is part of a family of local papers that includes the Concord Monitor.

- Annie Ropeik

N.H. calls out for doctors, nurses to volunteer

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 2:59 p.m.

In preparation for a surge in COVID-19 patients in the weeks ahead, New Hampshire has launched an online registration for volunteer health care professionals.

The portal, NHresponds.org, is for medical and non-medical volunteers. "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our state," said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

It's part of a federal effort to bolster medical support for a projected surge in patients. A surge in patients is likely in the days ahead, as New Hampshire triples the number of tests for coronavirus, said Gov. Chris Sununu.

In a news conference in Concord, Sununu also urged people to visit VolunteerNH.org. And the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs has a new web page for companies who have or can produce supplies that are high demand, like face masks, gloves, medical gowns. 

Sununu began the conference by saying that New Hampshire does not have a stay-at-home advisory, or a "shelter in place" order. He reiterated that residents should continue to use safe social distancing - staying 6 feet away from others - to try to limit spread of COVID-19. 

(This blog will be updated with additional information from the conference)

Rescue teams urge hikers to use extra caution

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 1:17 p.m.

New Hampshire's search-and-rescue teams are urging people heading to the woods to use extra caution to avoid putting first responders at risk for COVID-19.

"A message we would like to send is that we understand getting outside is important for people's physical and mental well-being in this trying time," says Major David Walsh of N.H. Fish and Game. "However, it is imperative that people enjoying the outdoors do so with a high degree of caution. Putting themselves at risk also means causing a multitude of first responders to abandon social distancing and puts them at risk as well."

Search teams were called into action Sunday to rescue an injured hiker from Mount Washington, with the help of Twin Mountain Fire & EMS, and the Cog Railway.

Meanwhile, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking hikers to stay off the popular AT, the trail from Georgia to Maine, to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Some legendary parts of the trail stretch through New Hampshire.

Sandy Marra, CEO of theVirginia-based conservancy, says the trail has been inundated with hikers as people seek ways to exercise alone or in small groups. 

"I mean, people were parking on people's lawns because parking lots were full," she says. "Trailheads, shelter sites, so the whole concept of social distancing went out the window as people walked outdoors."

- Todd Bookman

Sununu bans gatherings of 10 or more

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 12:30 p.m. 

In his latest executive order, Governor Sununu is prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. The ban is for scheduled gatherings for "social, spiritual, and recreational activities, including but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities."

Court proceedings, organizations, state government and urgent medical events are exempt from the order, which is in effect until April 6.

The ban on gatherings of 10 or more follows the latest CDC guidelines.

- Sarah Gibson 

Police try to limit face-to-face contact

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 10 a.m.

Police departments across New Hampshire are trying to limit the amount of face-to-face contact between officers and the public to help prevent spread of coronavirus. Some departments, including Portsmouth, have closed their station lobbies to the public.

The Manchester Police Department's lobby is still open, but only to people with emergency situations. Spokeswoman Heather Hamel says officers will handle non-emergency situations by phone. She says the number of police officers on the street is the same, and investigations of crimes continue uninterrupted.

- Rick Ganley, Mary McIntyre

Murray urges public to report suspected fraud

Update: Tuesday, March 24, 10 a.m.  

The U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire is warning Granite Staters to on the watch for online scams. Scott W. Murray says scammers are trying to cash in on the coronavirus pandemic by preying on public fears.

Scams include counterfeit products and fake cures, as well as malicious websites or apps that appear to share information, or phishing emails that appear to be from legitimate organizations, like the CDC.

Granite Staters can report cases of fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at (866) 720-5721.

DHMC develops its own test for COVID-19

Update:  Monday, March 23, 4:25 p.m.

Credit DHMC

Dartmouth-Hitchcock says it's now able to do its own coronavirus tests without relying on the state public health lab or commercial labs in other states.

Dr. Edward Merrens with Dartmouth-Hitchcock says in theory they could run as many as 1000 tests a day. But because of shortages in testing swabs and protective equipment for healthcare workers, only Dartmouth-Hitchcock patients who are hospitalized and health care workers who have direct contact with patients will be tested.

"The biggest limiting factor is the swabs and the protective equipment," Merrens says.

Merrens says the new testing capacity should relieve some of the burden on the state's public health lab.

- Jason Moon

First coronavirus death in N.H.

Update: Monday, March 23, 4:15 p.m.

New Hampshire has seen its first death from coronavirus. The announcement came from state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan at a press conference Monday (March 23).

The male patient was over the age of 60 and a resident of Hillsborough County, Chan said, adding the patient had several underlying medical conditions.

Chan also announced that there are 23 new cases of coronavirus in New Hampshire, bringing the state's total to 101.

Earlier today, the mayors of Manchester and Nashua asked Governor Sununu to issue a shelter in place order to slow the spread of the virus. Mayors Joyce Craig and Jim Donchess are the latest to join a growing number of public officials asking Sununu to issue such an order.

At the press conference, Sununu said New Hampshire residents must practice social distancing and "be accountable to each other," and did not announce such an order.

Read full story here.

- NHPR Staff

Sununu announces plan to increase available hospital beds

Governor Chris Sununu announced today that the state is working with healthcare providers to set up more temporary hospital bed space.

The eight sites across the state would be used in the event that a surge of coronavirus patients overwhelms existing hospital bed capacity.

Sununu says the first site to be ready will be in Manchester at Southern New Hampshire University. Catholic Medical Center and Elliot Hospital will handle clinical care at that location.

- Jason Moon

First day of remote learning for most families

Update: Monday, March 23, 4:15 p.m.

Many families across New Hampshire are wrapping up their first day of remote learning during the state's virus-related school closures.

Districts spent much of last week getting paper packets and devices to students so they could begin classes today. Many teachers and staff said things are off to a hopeful start but there's still a lot in flux.

School staff are looking for ways to keep tabs on students who are struggling, both with remote learning and emotionally.

Many teachers are making one-on-one calls to stay connected with students. Guidance counselors across the state say they're also figuring out how to do wellness checks and provide support remotely.

- Sarah Gibson

WIC conducting appointments only by phone

Update: Monday, March 23, 1 p.m.

New Hampshire Health and Human Services announced today that, in light of CDC recommendations around social distancing, the state's Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program will conduct all appointments by phone until further notice.

The WIC program provides nutrition, education, and support to the state's pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and preschool-aged children. DHHS says WIC offices are working to ensure clients continue to get the services they need with minimal disruption, and that all appointment types, including certifications, can be completed by phone. The WIC phone appointments web page  has more information. Its phone number: 1-800-942-4321

State senator, state house staffers self-quarantine after Fuller Clark's husband tests positive for coronavirus

Update: Monday, March 23, 11:55 a.m.

Credit NHPR Staff

The positive COVID-19 test of the husband of a Portsmouth state senator Martha Fuller Clark is prompting one other state senator and several state house staffers to self-quarantine.

Terry Pfaff, the chief operating officer of the state legislature, says the steps are prudent under the circumstances.

Click here to sign up for emails to get the latest news on coronavirus in New Hampshire.

“We currently have two senators who are self-quarantining, the senator herself, Martha Fuller Clark, and also Senator Sherman," he said.

"We also have several of our senate staff who are self-quarantining, out of an abundance of caution and monitoring their heath.”

Senator Tom Sherman of Rye rode in a car with Fuller Clark in the days before her husband’s positive test. The quarantined Senate staffers were in close proximity with Fuller Clark during that same period.

The state house is closed to visitors and legislative leaders have suspended operations through April 10.

- Josh Rogers

Gov. Charlie Baker issues stay-at-home advisory order in Massachusetts

 Update: Monday, March 23, 11:30 a.m. 

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has just announced state health officials will issue a stay-at-home advisory to all residents of the state.

Baker is also ordering the closure of non-essential businesses, starting at noon tomorrow (March 24). Both the advisory and order will expire on April 7th.

Baker said the stay-at-home advisory is not a mandated shelter-in-place order; noting he did not believe that he can or should order citizens to be confined to their homes. He urged residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary activities.

On Sunday, Mass. health officials reported three new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the state's total to five.

Click here for more on this story from WBUR.

DHHS announces 13 new positive test results for coronavirus in New Hampshire, bringing state's total to 78

Update: Sunday, March 22, 5:20 p.m.

The current situation in New Hampshire by county
Credit New Hampshire DHHS

State health officials announced an additional 13 cases of the coronavirus on Sunday (March 22), bringing the total number of New Hampshire cases to 78. Of the new cases of COVID-19, are all adults, including nine males and four females.

Sullivan County now has its first confirmed case, while DHHS says a case previously identified in Coos County was in fact a resident of Grafton County, meaning Coos is the only county in the state yet to see a confirmed case.

Rockingham County has been the most affected, with 28 cases now confirmed.

Six of the new cases have required hospitalization, with at least one of those patients now discharged.

On Friday (March 20), DHHS issued guidance that those with mild symptoms will not be given tests and should instead stay home, a result of a lack of testing supplies and protective equipment for health care workers.

Nearly 900 tests remain pending, according to DHHS.

- Todd Bookman

Manchester VA Limits On-Site Patient Traffic

Update: Sunday, March 22 at 5:15 p.m.

The Manchester VA Medical Center
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR

The Manchester VA Medical Center is intesifying its reponse to the coronavirus.

In an update posted on the VA's website, veterans are advised they will be screened in their vehicles as they arrive on campus.

Visitors at VA outpatient clinics in Conway, Somersworth, and Tilton will be screened at the entrances to those facilities.

The VA is urging patients who are ill to call before going to the center. The phone number is is 800-892-8384 ext. 3199.

Click here for more information.

Court changes procedures, delays trials in response to coronavirus

Update: Sunday, March 22, 2:50 p.m. 

The federal courthouse in Concord is again altering its procedures in light of the pandemic. In a new set of orders issued by Chief Judge Landya McCafferty, the Rudman Courthouse will only be open for in-court hearings on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the time being.

Criminal defendants making their initial appearance, facing arraignment or scheduled for bail hearings will now appear via videoconference, with their consent.

Members of the public and the media who wish to attend a hearing in-person will use an overflow room, with capacity limited to no more than 10 people. All civil hearings will be done by teleconference, and all jury trials are being delayed until at least May 1st.

“The court wants to assure the public that it is committed to fulfilling its mission of providing justice efficiently and effectively throughout this public health emergency,” wrote McCafferty. “The judges of this court are committed to preserving the constitutional and legal rights of the public as we respond to these unprecedented challenges.

- Todd Bookman

Coronavirus Cases Rise to 65 in N.H.

Update, Saturday, March 21, 6:28 p.m.

New Hampshire officials have announced 10 additional cases of coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 65 confirmed cases.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reports that three of the confirmed cases in the state have required hospitalization; one of the new cases is hospitalized. All of the 10 new people identified are adults. Four of the cases have no identified risk factors, indicating additional community-based transmission of COVID-19, according to DHHS.

The state is reducing the number of tests it is performing, citing a shortage of protective gear for health care workers. People with mild symptoms are asked to stay home.

On Saturday, Governor Chris Sununu issued a new executive order that requires grocery store customers to use new plastic or paper bags. Reusable tote bags, he says, pose a risk to store employees.

- Todd Bookman 

State senator's husband tests positive

Update, Saturday, March 21, 2:11 p.m.  

State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth says her husband has tested positive for COVID-19. In a press release issued from the New Hampshire Senate, the senator says she has not experienced symptoms. She and her husband have been in isolation since Tuesday.

To the extent members of the public were in close contact with Fuller Clark between March 7 and March 15, the Senate says they should follow state guidelines for self quarantine and self-observation

"While my husband is feeling under the weather, his symptoms are not critical and we have been in self-isolation since Tuesday," she said in a statement. "After my husband received the positive test result today, we felt it was our responsibility to inform the public so that others may take the necessary precautions to self-observe and self-quarantine as necessary."

- Dan Tuohy

Update: Saturday, March 21, 12:45 p.m.

The White House coronavirus task force is holding a briefing at 12:45 p.m. Listen live on NHPR and streaming on NHPR.org

C & J suspending service Sunday

Update, Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m

C & J is suspending all bus service, beginning Sunday.

The company was running a reduced schedule to points in Boston and New York City, but with ridership plummeting, C & J says it is now cancelling all trips indefinitely.

Concord Coach is continuing to run on a limited schedule to Boston and Logan Airport.

Amtrak's Downeaster is also operating with fewer daily trains.

- Todd Bookman

State issues new guidelines on testing

Update, Friday, March 20, 11:30 p.m.

COVID-19 test kit.
Credit CDC.gov

A shortage of testing supplies and personal medical equipment has led state health officials to limit testing for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

In a statement Friday night, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said people who may have been exposed through close contact with a person presumed to have COVID-19, as well as those who have traveled from countries with widespread transmission of the illness, will not be tested but should instead remain at home for 14 days.

Instead, priority for testing should go to people who “develop severe COVID-19 illness, as well as exposed health care providers and exposed first responders."

In the statement, New Hampshire health commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state’s healthcare system is already under strain from the early cases of COVID-19 and cannot accommodate tests for everyone showing symptoms associated with the illness, including fever and cough.

State health officials recommend that people who develop signs of mild respiratory illness should stay at home for at least seven days after symptoms appear and should not go out until at least 72 hours after symptoms show improvement and a fever goes away without medication.

11 new cases of coronavirus identified in New Hampshire, bringing total to 55

Update: Friday, March 20, 5:30 p.m.

On Friday, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services announced 11 new positive tests for COVID-19 in the state. All the patients are adults, six males and five females.

The new cases are spread across Grafton County (3), Rockingham County (2), Manchester (1), Hillsborough County other than Manchester and Nashua (1), Carroll County (1), Merrimack County (1), Cheshire County (1), Coos County (1). The positive test results in Coos and Cheshire counties are the first in those counties. 

Click here to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates on this developing story.

Four of the cases, including the one in Manchester, have no identified risk factors, indicating community transmission - they don't appear to be related to travel or contact with an infected person.

The state public laboratory has now processed nearly 2,000 tests, with nearly 1,000 test pending results.

- Annie Ropeik

Manchester VA identifies its first veteran to test positive

Update: Friday, March 20, 5;35 p.m.

The Manchester VA says it has identified its first veteran to test positive for COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the state's only medical center says it will not provide more information due to privacy concerns.

The Manchester VA Medical Center does not conduct lab testing for coronavirus. Employees have been screening veterans and staff who may have fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

The VA is attempting to limit procedures to those considered time-sensitive and clinically necessary, though there is some disagreement with the VA about what procedures are and are not necessary.

- Peter Biello

Options for those who lose insurance because of coronavirus

Update: Friday, March 20, 4:55 p.m. 

The state insurance department is reminding people that they do have options if they are losing their health insurance because of the coronavirus.

People who now have low or no income after being laid off because of the coronavirus can apply for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. More info on that can be found here.

For others who may have lost their employer-based health insurance because of reduced hours, individual health insurance plans can be purchased at healthcare dot gov. People in this situation qualify for a special enrollment period that lasts for 60 days after they lose their existing coverage.

Enrollment help can be found here.

- Jason Moon

____________

Disaster loans available for small New Hampshire businesses

Federal disaster loans are now available for small businesses in New Hampshire that are losing revenue because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. Small Business Administration made the announcement today (Friday, March 20) amid historic restrictions that are sharply limiting economic activity.

The loans can go small businesses and any nonprofits, as well as agricultural co-ops and small acquaculture businesses. Anyone who qualifies must have been financially impacted as a direct result of the virus any time after January 31st of this year.

Disaster loans of up to $2 million dollars will available through late this year. These loans can cover debt, payroll and many other expenses that small businesses are now unable to cover because of the pandemic.

- Annie Ropeik

Sununu Youth Services Center suspends family visits

Update: Friday, March 20, 4:50 p.m.  

New Hampshire's sole juvenile detention center is temporarily suspending all family visits in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials say there are 18 young people currently detained at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester. They will no longer receive in-person visits, including from their attorneys. The State Health Department says the center is making arrangements to ensure residents can stay in touch with family and providers via video.

- Sarah Gibson

Statewide student assessments will likely be cancelled, SATs already cancelled

Update: Friday, March 20, 4:45 p.m.  

Statewide student performance assessments will likely be cancelled this spring due to emergency school closures.

President Trump announced Friday that states can apply for waivers to cancel performance assessments. This likely means no mandatory standardized tests for students in New Hampshire this spring.

SAT tests - required by many colleges - have also been canceled for the month of May, and the US College Board is still figuring out how to administer remote tests for students in Advanced Placement classes.

- Sarah Gibson

N.H. DOE: Remote learning could go until end of the school year

Update: Friday, March 20, 2:50 p.m.

The New Hampshire Department of Education says school districts should make plans for remote learning to continue until the end of the semester.

Under Governor Sununu's emergency order issued this week, schools are closed until April 3 in response to the coronavirus.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told administrators today, March 20, that it was "highly likely" that school closure will last longer than that, though officials haven't yet made a final decision.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday it would grant a waiver to any state unable to perform statewide performance assessments, which traditionally occur in the spring. This means statewide assessments will likely be cancelled in New Hampshire, though the N.H. DOE says it is still figuring out what congressional and local action may be required to do this legally.

New Hampshire uses the SAT as its annual assessment of 11th graders. The N.H. DOE says even if it is no longer mandatory as a statewide assessment, it is looking into ways for students to opt into taking the SAT for college applications.

- Sarah Gibson

Sununu seeks help from feds as jobless claims surge

Update: Friday, March 20, 2:40 p.m.  

Jobless claims are surging in New Hampshire because of coronavirus related closures. (Scroll down for more on this story), so Governor Chris Sununu is seeking more help from the federal government.

There have been so many layoffs and lost wages in New Hampshire that the state is now asking people to only file claims at certain times of day, with sign up periods are organized by the first initial of a person's last name.

Governor Sununu issued orders earlier this week that expanded unemployment eligibility to more people affected by the coronavirus. Today he sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking Congress to amend the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program.

He says the increase in unemployment needs is straining the state's unemployment trust fund and will be difficult to sustain long-term.

- Annie Ropeik

Focus on supplies, response

Update: Friday, March 20, 1:30 p.m.

The White House task force on coronavirus continues to focus on amassing supplies, including activating powers under the Defense Production Act to line up manufacturing to meet needs. Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged today there are not yet enough tests to respond to demand. "We're not there yet," he said. 

President Trump told reporters at a briefing that the U.S. is making progress. He announced March 20 that the U.S. will waive interest on student loans, and allow students to suspend loan payments for at least 60 days. The moves come as the U.S. is extending its annual tax deadline from April 15 to July 15.

The U.S.-Mexico border is also being closed to non-essential travel, similar to the move for the country's border with Canada.

Record unemployment claims filed in N.H.

Update: Friday, March 20, 12:45 p.m.

New Hampshire is seeing an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims following the restrictions put on businesses and restaurants due to the coronavirus.

State officials say more than 16,000 people filed applications for unemployment benefits since Tuesday, when New Hampshire ordered all restaurants to serve takeout and delivery only, and put a cap on public gatherings of more than 50 people.

The number of impacted workers--many of them in the retail and service industry--expected to file for unemployment benefits is expected to reach 25,000 by the end of Saturday.

According to N.H. Employment Security, those rates are five times higher than the height of the great recession.

“The spike in unemployment that we are experiencing here is unlike anything New Hampshire has ever seen, and I hope will ever see again,” Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for Employment Security, told NHPR.

Lavers says his agency is working to improve its website, which is failing to process claims for about 20% of applicants due to high demand. With state offices largely shuttered to the public, impacted workers are not able to file for benefits in person. Telephone wait times, according to the agency, are averaging less than ten minutes.

Earlier this week, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order expanding who can qualify for unemployment benefits to include anyone who sees their income diminished by the economic effects of the coronavirus, including the self-employed.

The state is waiving the usual requirement that those collecting benefits must actively look for other employment.

At the start of this month, the state’s unemployment fund’s balance stood at approximately $300 million, a level considered healthy by national standards.

Applicants should expect to receive their first benefits checks eight days after their claim is processed, according to Lavers.

- Todd Bookman

Downeaster cuts back train service

Update: Friday, March 20, 12:35 p.m.

The Amtrak Downeaster is cutting back some train service for at least the next week as the region continues to respond to COVID-19.

The rail route goes from Boston through the Seacoast into Maine.

The Downeaster will operate three trains in both directions Friday, March 20. Starting tomorrow through next Friday, it'll run two trains in each direction per day.

Passengers are asked to check the latest schedules and service alerts for details.

Amtrak officials note that the buildings at some train stations are closed, but they say trains will stop at outdoor platforms.

- Annie Ropeik

Unemployment Claims Must Be Filed Online 

Update: Friday, March 20, 11:05 a.m.

More than 16,000 New Hampshire residents filed new unemployment claims in three days this week.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to tens of thousands of layoffs across the state, as restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses cut back or close. This means New Hampshire Employment Security is fielding a record number of requests.

Deputy Commissioner Robert Lavers said on NHPR's The Exchange this morning (Friday, March 20) that he expects the total of new claims to climb to more than 25,000 by week's end. The number of claims is more than five times the volume the state unemployment agency saw in a week during the 2008 great recession, Lavers said.

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With the high demand on the system, Governor Sununu tweeted this morning that individuals will be assigned a block of time based on the first letter of their last name to file a new claim.

Unemployment offices are closed to the public because of the outbreak, so claims must be made online or by phone.

- Dan Tuohy

Hannaford's adds special shopping hours for those at high risk of contracting coronavirus

Update: Friday, March 20, 11:00 a.m.  

Hannaford's supermarkets will be the latest to add special shopping hours for people at a heightened risk of contracting the new coronavirus.

Starting March 24, the Maine-based grocery chain will reserve the 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for people over age 60 and anyone else at high risk for COVID-19.

The company says in a note to customers that they want to limit occupancy in their stores during those times, and ask for help to "ensure the integrity of this measure."

Similar measures are in place at some local food stores as well as the Market Basket and Price Chopper chains.

Hannaford's and other stores are also asking customers to only shop for what they need as they try to keep shelves stocked with high-demand items.

- Annie Ropeik