NHPR is continuing to cover the developing story around coronavirus in New Hampshire. Bookmark this page for the latest updates.
Tuesday, March 10, 9:40 pm
Towns in the Upper Valley say they're doing their best to keep local residents informed as the situation around the coronavirus unfolds.
Officials in Hanover and Lebanon have been providing updates on their websites. They’ve also been wiping down surfaces in municipal buildings and making sure people know what preventative steps to take: wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home if you're sick.
But these two municipalities have some frustrations about how the state has been communicating with them about coronavirus.
The state's Department of Health and Human Services is only providing numbers of affected people at the county level, and that can make preparation plans challenging.
"They can't even tell us if we have a person in our community who's in isolation or who's in quarantine status. That makes it difficult for us to plan ahead and see what the potential impacts could be in the community,” says Shaun Mulholland, Lebanon city manager.
Mulholland says he understands the state follows federal rules around patient privacy, but “there’s a lack of information that allows us to plan more accurately our response.”
“While being respectful of people's medical right to medical privacy, I just know that we're feeling more vulnerable as a result,” said Julia Griffin, Hanover’s town manager. “Hence, our need for more communication rather than less is perhaps part of why we're feeling the way we are.”
According to a spokesperson, the state health department believes that releasing any information that could easily lead to identifying a patient would be a "severe violation of federal law."
Dr. Ben Chan, the state epidemiologist, says DHHS had not heard any concerns or questions directly from the town of Hanover.
“I want to make sure we are trying to address the concerns as best as possible,” Chan said. “I think there’s some confusion where the communication has broken down in that process.”
Chan says he hopes the newly established Joint Information Center will help streamline communication between towns and the state.
“We understand there’s a need for broader engagement at the town and city level,” Chan said.
The JIC, according to a press release from the governor’s office provides a single point of contact for media inquiries.
Three of the five COVID-19 cases confirmed in the state so far are in Grafton County, where Hanover and Lebanon are located.
Tuesday, March 10, 6:00pm
State health officials have announced the fifth positive test result in New Hampshire for the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
The newly identified case is an adult male in Rockingham County who had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in another state. He was tested by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which notified New Hampshire.
According to state public health officials, the patient is self-isolated at home and any household contacts are self-quarantining.
The state is conducting an investigation into this person’s activities and will contact anyone who may have been in close contact with him. So far, they have determined the patient remained at home while ill except to seek healthcare.
Despite the new positive test result, state public health officials stress that there is no evidence of widespread transmission of COVID-19 in New Hampshire. In a hearing before lawmakers Tuesday afternoon, state epidemiologist Ben Chan said that as the state increases the rate of testing for COVID-19, the supply of test kits is diminishing. Chan said the state has the capacity now to test more than 100 additional people for COVID-19 and is awaiting more kits from the CDC.
- Jason Moon
Tuesday, March 10, 5:30 p.m.
The New Hampshire Insurance Department is ordering private health insurers in the state to fully cover costs associated with testing patients for the coronavirus.
The new requirement, announced Tuesday afternoon, is meant to ensure that patients do not put off necessary medical treatment due to concerns over what they may be charged when they access care.
Anthem, the state’s largest private insurer, previously announced that it would cover any out-of-pocket costs associated with coronavirus testing.
The Insurance Department said people covered through the state’s Medicaid program will also receive tests at no cost, should they need them.
A spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said the agency is working with the federal government to ensure that the approximately 70,000 state residents with no health insurance coverage are also able to obtain tests for COVID-19, should then need them, regardless of their ability to pay.
The state Insurance Department is reminding health insurance companies that they are not able to deny coverage, including mental health treatment, to patients who seek to use telemedicine for health services. Insurers are also being directed to allow their members to obtain 90-day supplies of medications, when available, to ensure continuous access to prescriptions.
Tuesday, March 10, 2:09 p.m.
The Hollis Brookline School District plans to reopen tomorrow, after closing today in light of news that a staff member was being tested for COVID-19. Superintendent Andrew Corey says he acted with “an abundance of caution,” but since learning that the patient tested negative, he says the district is prepared to reopen with an updated cleaning regimen.
Custodians at SAU 41 are working new hours, cleaning high-touch areas including door knobs, surfaces, and water fountains.
The district’s closure is the second this week in New Hampshire; Newmarket cancelled classes on Monday but plans to reopen on Wednesday.
Both superintendents made the decision with guidance from the state Department of Education and DHHS.
The DOE says it is not giving school districts a yes/no answer on closures, but is sharing the guidance from DHHS, which should give administrators the information they need to make a determination.
A spokesman for DOE said:
“Cancelling school is not advised under this guidance without specific evidence of exposure. Schools have taken steps that they have determined are necessary to protect their communities. School continuity is important, and without specific evidence of increased risk of COVID-19, schools should try to preserve this continuity for students.”
DOE Commissioner Edelblut said the department is working with districts to assess their ability to continue instruction remotely if school buildings are closed.
“We have no intention of long-term closing schools,” he explained. “All of the schools are planning for how we do remote instruction and remote student learning."
Edelblut said many students have internet connectivity at home and chromebooks or tablets from school; those who don’t may have to use computers at libraries or local community centers.
- Jason Moon and Sarah Gibson
Monday, March 9, 7:00p.m.
The state saw its first K-12 school closure on Monday, after administrators in Newmarket learned that a staff member had been on a bus with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus. After conferring with state officials, Superintendent Susan Givens said there is not a risk of infection to the school district, and classes will resume on Wednesday.
The New Hampshire Department of Education says it's working with the state health department to help school districts address concerns about the coronavirus disease COVID-19.
In addition to fielding questions from school districts about safety and self-quarantine, the DOE is keeping tabs on schools' plans for domestic and international trips.
“Many of our students have spent a lot of time and effort raising funds to be able to have these trips available to them,” says Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “But we also want to be cautious. So there’s lots of considerations that go into determining whether or not to go forward.”
The DOE and DHHS are issuing guidance to schools for their trips, but leaving it up to districts to make the final decision on whether to postpone or cancel.
If school officials or parents have questions about how to monitor groups recently returned from trips, they are advised to call DHHS (603 271 4496). Further information on schools can be found here.
Monday, March 9, 5:15 p.m.
The state is now monitoring approximately 225 New Hampshire residents for symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. This number includes people who are self-isolating because of travel or because they were identified as a close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
State public health officials are highlighting new guidelines from the CDC for older adults who are at greater risk for serious illness as a result of COVID-19. The recommendations include stocking up on supplies and avoiding crowds.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s office is recommending towns consult CDC guidelines for polling places ahead of Tuesday’s municipal elections.
That includes cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly, providing hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, and making sure there's enough soap, water and drying materials in public restrooms.
Kevin Peterson is the town moderator in Lyme, a small town in Grafton County. He says being cautious is the best prevention.
That means providing each voter with an individual golf pencil to fill out their ballot, wiping down the microphone after each use during the deliberative session Tuesday morning, and having some social distancing.
"Rather than have the chairs sit right close to each other, we'll have them three to four feet apart. That's a standard way of limiting contact between individuals,” Peterson said.
Voting booths will be frequently cleaned and disinfected, and ballot counters will have gloves to count the paper ballots.
“We’ll have plenty of hand sanitizer around,” Peterson said. “We feel like we’re taking all the precautions that are available to use at this time.
Peterson says on the town email listserv there have been a range of reactions to the town’s plans, “ranging from people who’ve decided that they are not planning to participate, to others who are a little surprised by the extent to which we’re taking precautions.”
-Jason Moon and Daniela Allee
Monday, March 9, 1:00 pm
Congressman Chris Pappas, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, and other city officials told reporters this morning that New Hampshire's largest city is prepared for the potential spread of the new coronavirus.
Manchester officials held the press conference in a fire station following a closed briefing on the city's emergency preparedness.
Though there haven't yet been any cases identified in the city, Manchester Public Health Director Anna Thomas says city agencies are drawing up plans to operate on minimal staffing if self-quarantines become widespread.
“Even though the city of Manchester has had low activity so far to date, we know we're the state's largest city and with a very populated area. We're very mindful of the fact that we're going to have to constantly be ahead of this,” said Thomas.
Catholic Medical Center CEO Joseph Pepe was also present at the press conference. He said his hospital expects to have access to commercial tests for COVID-19 sometime this week.
Meanwhile, in light of new CDC guidance advising people at higher risk of becoming severely ill because of COVID-19 to avoid crowds, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon has announced it will limit group gatherings at all its facilities to 50 or fewer people.
So far 4 cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 have been identified in New Hampshire, three in Grafton County and one in Rockingham County.
Sunday, March 8, 2:00 p.m.
Two more people in New Hampshire have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
That brings the total number of cases in the state to four.
One of the new patients is an adult male from Rockingham County who recently returned from Italy.
The other is an adult male from Grafton county. Health officials say he came in close contact with the state's second confirmed case of COVID-19 during a church service in West Lebanon.
During a press conference Sunday morning, state epidemiologist Ben Chan said the state is working with the church pastor to identify anyone else who may be at risk.
"These new detections do not indicate wider spread community transmission," Chan said. "We can trace contacts from the first case, to the second case, to the third case. And the goal of our public health investigation is to try and prevent wider spread community transmission."
The Hope Bible Fellowship Church in West Lebanon canceled services for today and all this week. State health officials are asking anyone who attended services there on Sunday, March 1st, to stay at home and not go out in public.
The state is also investigating to find and notify anyone who may have been in close contact with the man in Rockingham County.
"This individual, it's our understanding they were staying at home in the several days before testing positive. So while we are investigating, we believe that the exposure to the community overall is low at this time," Chan said.
State health officials say they are currently monitoring about 150 New Hampshire residents who are self-isolating because of travel or because they were identified as a close contact with someone who has tested positive.
State public health officials have published instructions on how to self-quarantine here.
Chan says the state currently has the capacity to test approximately 150 more people in New Hampshire for COVID-19 with the CDC test kits the state received. He said it's unclear when more test kits from the CDC might arrive. Efforts to create commercially available COVID-19 tests, including by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, are still ongoing.
Churchgoers in the Upper Valley notice some differences on Sunday
Meanwhile, a number of Upper Valley churches changed parts of their services to minimize person-to-person contact this weekend. Kyle Seibert, the pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hanover, said he’s been paying close attention to the news about coronavirus as well as recommendations from the CDC.
So this Sunday, that meant not shaking hands during the service, as a way to minimize spreading germs.
“We actually learned some American Sign Language this morning,” Seibert said, “of ‘peace be with you and also with you.’ ”
Across the street, at St. Denis Catholic Church, things were different too on Sunday. Normally, along with passing out communion wafers, parishioners drink the wine from a communal cup. But yesterday, they skipped the shared cup. Parishioner Max Wunderlich, from White River Junction, Vt., said they also skipped the sign of peace, out of health concerns.
Other organizations continued to change plans because of coronavirus precaution. Special Olympics New Hampshire cancelled several events, including a basketball tournament and a swim meet, scheduled for the coming weeks. Mary Conroy, president & CEO of Special Olympics New Hampshire, said that “while cancelling events is disappointing for athletes who have trained for months to compete -- as well as the volunteers, family, friends -- our love of sport doesn’t compare to the importance of protecting the health of our athletes, which will remain our priority.”
Conroy said decisions regarding future events will be made in the coming weeks and months as the coronavirus situation evolves.
-Jason Moon and Daniela Allee
Friday, March 6, 9:45 p.m.
Dartmouth College has suspended all of its spring term international programs, including study abroad programs, exchange programs, and Dartmouth-supported internships and fellowships for undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students. The move will affect roughly 100 students, the college said.
In a message to the Dartmouth community Friday, Provost Joseph Helble said the college considered a number of factors in making this decision, including increasing travel uncertainty, risks to community health, federal and state guidance, and “concern for homestay families with vulnerable members in the home.” Undergraduate students in “credit-bearing programs” affected by the cancellations will be able to access a $5,000 cash grant from the college.
That money can be used for independent research, internships, alternative education opportunities or alternative off-campus housing for the spring. To access the money, students will need to fill out an online form by March 20.
Dartmouth says the form will be available by March 10. Dartmouth is also offering online courses for affected students for the spring term, which starts March 30. Students who are already in overseas programs can remain if they choose, but no new programs will start, the college said.
Friday, March 6, 4:40 p.m.
State public health officials say they have received additional testing kits from the CDC. The newly arrived test kits allow the state to test an additional 200 people.
But officials have not said what the state’s total testing capacity is at the moment. As of 9 a.m. Friday, the state said it has tested a total of 25 people, with 20 tests coming back negative, 3 pending, and 2 positive results.
Volunteers with the Metropolitan Medical Response System helped the state conduct COVID-19 tests at the Lebanon Airport Thursday afternoon. Samples were taken from three people in a setting where they were able to remain inside their car while the sample was taken.
In a Facebook Live video on Friday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center CEO Joanne Conroy acknowledged the frustration of many in addressing the fact that the first patient to contract COVID-19 in New Hampshire, a DHMC employee, disregarded a request to self-quarantine.
“I’d like to start with a recognition that this employee was directed by Dartmouth-Hitchcock to self-quarantine and did not comply. We fully understand this causes great concern,” said Conroy.
“This concern exists both inside and outside our organization. We will not provide any additional details around this employee or any other patients. It’s the law and we comply with it.”
Ahead of next Tuesday’s municipal elections in Lebanon, home to DHMC, city officials are taking precautions to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
City Manager Shaun Mulholland said every voter will have access to hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes before entering the voting booth.
“If they wish to use it, they're not required to, but we'll have them there,” Mulholland said. “They can pull it out of the container and they can go in and wipe down their area and the pen that they're going to be using so we can reduce that risk.”
Mulholland said he wants city residents to know it is safe to come vote on Tuesday.
Thursday, March 5, 7:25 pm
Some effects of the new coronavirus have reached the New Hampshire State House.
One state lawmaker who returned from a trip to Italy on Monday is now self-quarantined, at the request of House Speaker Steve Shurtleff.
Rep. Judith Spang of Durham said she went to the State House the day after she returned, on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the CDC released updated guidance, advising anyone who has traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea or China to stay home and monitor their health.
Spang said she was contacted by the State House nurse that day. Then, she heard from the House speaker.
"The speaker said, I don't want to see you in the state house for 14 days,” she remembers.
The Speaker's office says it has no formal policy on coronavirus, but is following CDC guidelines that have been adopted by state health officials.
Spang says she's symptom-free but will honor the request that she self-quarantine.
Her two weeks at home come as lawmakers face deadlines to act on dozens of bills. Spang says she plans to use her forced time at home to clean her basement.
Hanover region responds after two test positive for coronavirus
People in the Hanover area say a few things have also changed for them now that two people in the area have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business canceled the last day of classes, after a student contacted the school administration to say they were experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The college has also canceled all international programming for the month of March, in response to the spread of the coronavirus. That's made for a busy few days for Pierce Wilson, a freshman, who works at Tuck’s study abroad office.
“Actually, I have a ton of stuff to do because we’re scrambling to remake the programs on campus,” he said.
The college is discouraging international travel for all members of the Dartmouth community.
So Guilherme Marinho, a 19-year-old international student from Brazil, has changed his spring break plans.
He had originally planned to go back to his hometown of Curitibia to see his family. But as travel recommendations and restrictions around the coronavirus change, Marinho wants to be on the safe side.
““The regulations about countries are changing so fast that it might just be that I can’t come back to the US, and then I can’t come study for the spring term,” he said. “It’s a pretty big impact.”
He says this means the next time he’ll see his family is over the holidays in December.
“My grandparents are a little bummed out,” he said. “But the biggest concern on all of their minds is that I continue my studies properly.”
Instead, he’ll spend his spring break in New Hampshire with his girlfriend, who’s a New Hampshire native.
Sean Smith is a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College.
He says his department has been interviewing candidates for a number of open faculty positions. Typically that means candidates come for in-person interviews.
“And now, we’ve switched the remaining interviews to all virtual in order to eliminate unnecessary travel,” he said.
For Klaus Lubbe, the coronavirus has slowed down business.
Lubbe is the president and CEO of Bio X Cell, a biotech company in the Upper Valley that makes antibodies for research purposes, sending samples off to China and South Korea.
But while business has been slow, he says his Chinese partners asked him a few weeks ago if he could find a way to send them face masks.
“People are looking for masks here in West Lebanon or Hanover; sorry, but you can’t get them here either,” he said.
But he managed to find some masks online to send over.
“They were very grateful,” he said.
-Josh Rogers and Daniela Allee
Wednesday, March 4, 5:45pm
Officials at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center say they're close to having developed their own viral test for the novel coronavirus.
The center's Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Ed Merrens, said the center could have a test ready within the next few days.
"Certainly confirmatory testing will need to be done at the state level,” he said. “But this will allow us to test individuals we think are at risk."
He stressed that testing will be only available for those who display symptoms of the coronavirus.
Currently, medical providers in New Hampshire do not have access to such tests. All tests so far have been administered through the state.
-Peter Biello and Alex McOwen
Wednesday, March 4, 4:30pm
The state has issued a Public Health Incident Declaration, allowing volunteers to participate in the response to COVID-19. In a press release, state public health officials say they are drawing up plans to train volunteers in case the outbreak becomes more widespread.
Currently seven people in New Hampshire are being tested for COVID-19. Two people in Grafton county have tested positive.
Dartmouth College announced that four Geisel School of Medicine students have been identified as close contacts to the second person to test positive. Those students have been self-quarantined, according to the college.
Dartmouth College also announced it is cancelling all student international programming for the month of March, including spring break programs, internships, and field-based research. The college is also discouraging international travel for all members of the Dartmouth Community and requiring anyone who returns from countries identified by the CDC as Level 2 or Level 3 risks to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“To be clear, self-quarantine for travel that commenced after March 4, 2020, will need to occur off campus,” the email reads.
Meanwhile Governor Chris Sununu issued a statement welcoming a proposed federal funding package that would include $4.9 million in initial funding for New Hampshire to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
“These initial funds will help cover costs associated with monitoring this public health situation,” said Sununu in a written statement. “I urge Congress to send this appropriation to the President immediately so that New Hampshire has all resources available to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
As of February 28, 2020, the state had spent $46,000 responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. New Hampshire would be reimbursed for these costs as a result of this initial funding package.
Wednesday, March 4, 3:15 pm
The CDC has issued updated guidance for who should self-isolate after travel abroad.
Now all travelers returning from countries with a level 3 travel alert are advised to stay home and monitor their health for 14 days after returning to the United States. Countries with a level 3 travel alert and widespread coronavirus transmission currently include China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. The list will likely change as the situation develops.
Previously, only travelers from China were being instructed to self-isolate.
Travelers from countries with a level 2 travel alert are now advised to monitor their health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning to the U.S.
In New Hampshire, a new slate of COVID-19 tests has come back negative, leaving the total number of positive cases at two, as of 9:00 AM on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire travelers leaving the state by air are taking extra precautions.
Judith Antell of Wolfeboro spoke to NHPR just before boarding a bus to Logan Airport on her way to see her father in Florida. She plans to wipe down the airplane’s seatbelt and tray table with disinfectant wipes once she boards.
“If it was overseas, I would definitely cancel it,” said Antell. “I want to be within driving distance, so that if something happens I can still drive home.”
Officials at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport tell NHPR they haven’t yet seen a dip in the number of passengers coming through the terminal. Airport officials say they are directing janitorial staff to conduct extra cleanings of all public spaces as a precaution.
Tuesday, March 3, 5:55 p.m.
State health officials have announced a second presumptive positive test result for the coronavirus disease in New Hampshire.
The patient is an adult male from Grafton County who had close contact with the the first person to test positive in New Hampshire, who also lives in Grafton County. He is currently isolated at home. Both individuals are employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.
State health officials say they expect additional cases may be identified as they try to figure out other people that first person came into contact with.
The state says the first person identified with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, attended a social event last Friday despite being asked to self-quarantine. The first patient is now being ordered to isolate under state law.
The state is contacting attendees who had close contact with the person during the event and asking them to follow the recommended 14-day self-isolation.
DHMC has identified staff who may have been exposed through close contact but is not aware of any exposure to patients in clinical areas, according to a state press release.
Tuesday, March 3, 4:40 p.m.
In a statewide conference call today that included more than 1500 people, New Hampshire public health officials offered updated guidance to healthcare facilities and schools on how to respond to coronavirus.
State health officials fielded dozens of questions, including how schools should advise students returning from overseas travel.
Right now the CDC and state public health officials are asking only people who have returned from China to stay at home for 14 days before going out in public. Some schools in New Hampshire have gone further, asking students returning from other countries, including Italy, to self-quarantine.
“Just to be clear, that is not a [Division of] Public Health recommendation that those individuals need to self-quarantine,” said Ben Chan, state epidemiologist. “The school districts have taken that step. We support the school districts in taking those steps, but individuals who have traveled [to countries] other than China, are not being asked to self-quarantine.”
Chan added that travelers from other countries with CDC travel advisories are being asked to self-monitor and report any symptoms to their health care provider. Guidance from CDC and state public health officials on who should self-quarantine could change as the situation develops.
Chan said now that the state can do its own coronavirus tests, they're expanding the criteria for who gets tested beyond the criteria the CDC has been using. But during the call Chan cautioned that if the outbreak becomes more widespread in the state, it may overwhelm their capacity to test every low-risk patient.
“Likely, as this epidemic progresses, we're not going to be able to test everybody that may have risk factors and presents with any type of respiratory illness,” said Chan.
Chan told primary care providers the most important thing is to advise patients to remain at home when showing symptoms. Right now, four people in New Hampshire are being tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The state's first - and so far only - positive test result was announced Monday.
Beth Daly, head of the state's Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, also urged schools to begin making plans for if the coronavirus becomes widespread in the state.
“Residential schools in particular should be planning for the potential to isolate or quarantine students,” said Daly. “It needs to be a single room with access to a private bathroom, and then considering how you’re going to provide food and other basic needs.”
Health officials also warned schools to be on alert for bullying of students who have traveled abroad or who are of Asian descent.
Tuesday, March 3, 11:40 a.m.
The Grafton County patient who tested positive for the coronavirus disease COVID-19 attended a Tuck School of Business social event in White River Junction on Friday, February 28th, according to a community-wide email sent by the Dartmouth College health service.
According to the message, the investigation into who the patient, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock employee, might have come into contact with is still ongoing, and all people identified as coming in close contact with him are being notified. So far, no Dartmouth students have been identified as close contacts.
Meanwhile, four more patients in New Hampshire are being tested for COVID-19, according to the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control website.
Later today, the New Hampshire departments of health and education will host a statewide conference call with schools to offer guidance on how districts should prepare for the potential spread of the virus.
Many school districts have already been communicating with parents, outlining their plans. In the Concord school district, staff are disinfecting all “highly-used surfaces” in the building on a daily basis. In Derry, the entire bus fleet has been disinfected.
In Washington, D.C., the state’s congressional delegation is calling on the federal government to ensure states are reimbursed for the costs of dealing with the coronavirus.
“While New Hampshire’s state and local governments stand ready to assist the federal government, it is essential that the allocation of state dollars to the coronavirus response be reimbursed by federal supplemental funding,” the letter signed by all four of the state’s congressional delegation reads. “This reimbursement is necessary to maintain our state’s activities.”