Coronavirus Update: Sixth Person Tests Positive In New Hampshire, State Opens 211 Line

18 hours ago

Credit CDC

NHPR is continuing to cover the developing story around coronavirus in New Hampshire. Bookmark this page for the latest updates.

Click here for all of our coverage, including our updated FAQs and the latest guidance about coronavirus in New Hampshire.

N.H. opens 211 hotline for calls about coronavirus

Update Thursday, March 12 3:45 p.m.

The state has launched a 211 hotline to handle all COVID-19 related calls from New Hampshire residents. Any resident with questions or concerns regarding the COVID-19 outbreak can call 2-1-1 at any time of day.

The hotline is operated by Granite United Way and will replace the previous hotline established by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a written statement, state health commissioner Lori Shibinette said the hotline provides “the most up to date and accurate information about the presence of coronavirus in New Hampshire."

-Jason Moon

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New Hampshire courts cancel all jury trials

The judicial system is cancelling all jury trials for the next 30 days in New Hampshire, citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The announcement today from the Superior Court’s senior judge means anyone who has received a jury duty notification to appear between March 13th and April 13th should NOT go to the courts.

All hearings will be rescheduled.

- Todd Bookman

Related: UNH is moving all its classes online in response to coronavirus concerns

Rockingham County man is sixth person to test positive for coronavirus

Thursday, March 12 11:35 am

State public health officials have announced a sixth New Hampshire person has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The person is an adult male from Rockingham County who traveled to multiple countries in Europe. The person self-isolated upon return from Europe and notified their healthcare provider after developing symptoms. According to a state press release, household contacts of this person have self-quarantined.

Click here for FAQs: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus In New Hampshire

After conducting an investigation into this person’s activities, the state says it has determined the person has been isolated at home since returning to New Hampshire, except to seek health care. State public health officials have not identified any person other than household contacts in New Hampshire who may have been in close contact with this person while infectious.

State public health officials say despite increased testing in New Hampshire, they have not yet identified any widespread transmission in the state. All positive tests in New Hampshire have so far been people with clearly identified risk factors, including travel or contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Given the increasing numbers of infections globally and around the United States, state public health officials are recommending the following:

  • Stay home and avoid public places when sick (i.e. social distancing)
  • Cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid being within 6 feet (close contact) of a person who is sick
  • Avoid sharing drinks, smoking/vaping devices, or other utensils or objects that may transmit saliva
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

-Jason Moon

What are your questions (or concerns) about coronavirus in New Hampshire? We want to hear from you - click this link to take our brief survey.

N.H. officials say risk remains low in the state

Wednesday, March 11, 7:50pm 

Top state officials say they are working to make sure New Hampshire is ready if COVID-19 cases increase here, but they say for now, the risk remains low, and the number of confirmed cases remains small.

State epidemiologist Ben Chan, Governor Chris Sununu, and Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control Beth Daly updated members of the media on the developing situation today.

“We want to make sure we provide accurate and up-to-date information on a routine basis and make sure that people feel free to go about their daily activities, attend school, and other important activities and not be in fear of their health," Chan said. 

Five people in New Hampshire have tested positive for COVID-19, 3 in Grafton County and 2 in Rockingham County.  According to the DHHS website, as of Wednesday at 9:00 AM, 11 people are being tested and over 200 are at home being monitored by the state.

Click here for FAQs: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus In New Hampshire

Beth Daly said the state has had to issue legal orders forcing two individuals to comply with state instructions. One was an order of isolation for someone who is sick.  The other was an order of quarantine for someone who is not sick but was potentially exposed to the virus.  

The state also announced today that it has received more testing supplies for COVID-19 from the CDC, allowing the State Public Health Laboratories to test an additional 250 people who qualify.

And members of New Hampshire’s Congressional Delegation are applauding the announcement that the CDC has released $4.9 million to help the state combat the coronavirus outbreak.  

Speaking earlier today on Morning Edition, Sununu said funding is not an issue right now.  He says he’s in regular contact with other states and the federal government to coordinate a response. Sununu added that, even though governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have all declared a state of emergency, New Hampshire is not there yet.

“We don't want to just heighten the level just for the sake of heightening the level, right? This is definitely not a time to panic,” he said. “We have good folks on the ground. We're at the point where we can still deal with everything on a case-by-case basis and reach out to the contacts. We're asking folks to self-quarantine as we find those contacts. And again, it's really about spreading out that potential impact to the community, and that's all part of the mitigation plan going into effect.”

Taylor Caswell, Commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, says he's working with the governor and DHHS to plan around some economic disruption, especially potential impacts on workers in the service industry and businesses with low wage employees who lack paid time off.

He says, with coronavirus forcing some people to stay home from work, businesses are facing difficult questions.

“It's really hard to tell a small pizza place that they're going have to cover wages for somebody for a long period of time, and to balance that by keeping the business afloat versus, you know, trying to help the individual employees.”

Caswell spoke on NHPR’s The Exchange as part of today's show about the economic impacts of coronavirus. 

SNHU cancels in-person classes for now

Southern New Hampshire University says it is cancelling in-person classes through the end of March, and possibly longer, due to concerns of over the coronavirus.

In a letter sent to faculty this afternoon, SNHU says its approximately 3,000 on-campus students will transition to online classes.

“The University is actively monitoring COVID-19 developments and will continue to review information as it becomes available to determine if and when in-person classes may resume,” wrote Paul LeBlanc, the school’s president. “We may decide to extend online delivery through the end of the semester, if deemed necessary.”

Students are being asked to return home following spring break. A spokesperson says the school is working on a case-by-case basis for students who aren’t able to travel home, and that the campus will remain open in a limited capacity. Faculty are able to continue working from on-campus offices.

SNHU already serves approximately 90,000 students globally through online classes.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth College asked all of its students to leave campus during spring break, and says it will assess the situation during that period.  

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health says it has implemented some new precautions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, including restrictions on business and personal travel for employees, both international and domestic.  It also has guidelines limiting events to no more than 50 participants. 

A regular hockey game held as a benefit by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health will not be canceled, but organizers announced it will proceed without spectators and instead be live-streamed. 

-Josh Rogers, Todd Bookman, Christina Phillips and Cori Princell

Towns ask for more communication with the state

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.

-Daniela Allee

Fifth Case in N.H.

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

State Orders Private Insurers to Cover Costs of Coronavirus Tests

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.

-Todd Bookman

Manchester officials say they are prepared if coronavirus comes to the state's largest city

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 Fire Chief Dan Goonan, Manchester Public Health Director Anna Thomas, Congressman Chris Pappas, and Mayor Joyce Craig.  
Credit Jason Moon / NHPR

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.

-Jason Moon

Two test positive for coronavirus, bringing New Hampshire's case total to four

Sunday, March 8, 2:00 p.m.

State Epidemiologist Ben Chan and DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette at a press conference discussing presumptive positive test results for coronavirus in New Hampshire on Sunday, March 8.
Credit Jason Moon | NHPR

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.

Click here for more cononavirus coverage from NPR and NHPR.

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."

Click here for FAQs: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus In New Hampshire

The Hope Bible Fellowship Church in West Lebanon
Credit Daniela Allee | NHPR

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.

-Jason Moon 

New Hampshire issues Public Health Incident Declaration

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.

What are your questions (or concerns) about coronavirus in New Hampshire? We want to hear from you - click this link to take our brief survey.

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.

Gov. Chris Sununu during a news conference March 2 on New Hampshire's steps to be prepared to respond to coronavirus.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

“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.

-Jason Moon

Patient who tested positive for coronavirus attended social event

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.”

-Jason Moon

Click here for earlier updates from NHPR.