11212020 Virus Outbreak-Vermont

Vermont National Guard Staff Sgt. Micah Erno, left, and Sgt. Jordan Snow run wiring in what will become a makeshift emergency hospital at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, Vt., on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. By Sunday there will be a 250-bed surge hospital ready in case the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelms Vermont hospitals.

Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:

New Hampshire

With the coronavirus pandemic intensifying, New Hampshire on Thursday joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.

Previously, masks were required for certain people, including restaurant and retail workers with direct interaction with customers and those attending gatherings of more than 100 people. Sununu had resisted calls for a statewide mandate, even as surrounding states enacted similar measures. Maine and Massachusetts have gone further, requiring masks in public settings regardless of how far apart people stay.

“Masks are important. The message has to be there. They help. There’s no doubt,” Sununu said last week. “But an idea that a mask mandate is going to just solve the problem, that’s a comfort level that I don’t think the data bears out right now.”

On Thursday, he said a mandate was appropriate given the rising percentage of positive test results, the fact that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has doubled in the last two weeks, new outbreaks at five nursing homes and an “incredibly alarming rate” of asymptomatic community transmission.

“Wearing a mask is really all about keeping friends, family, neighbors, critical workforce members and those they care for safe and allowing our economy to stay open,” he said.

The order, which expires Jan. 15, does not apply to students and staff in K-12 schools, those with certain medical conditions, those engaged in strenuous physical activity and in half a dozen other scenarios. It includes no mention of enforcement or penalties. Sununu said authorities would rely instead on education.

A helping hand: An additional 11 million pairs of gloves will be heading to veterans hospitals and clinics around the country as part of an effort led by New Hampshire inventor Dean Kamen to secure personal protective equipment for front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie joined Kamen and members of the state’s congressional delegation Friday in Manchester to accept the shipment.

Outdoor inauguration: Gov. Chris Sununu will take his third oath of office outside the Statehouse.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jan. 7 inauguration ceremony will be held on the Statehouse plaza instead of in Representatives Hall to allow for social distancing.

Sununu is also doing away with the traditional series of inaugural balls typically held in January. Instead, private funds will be raised to host free, family-friendly outdoor events next summer, he said Thursday.

The new Legislature will be sworn in Dec. 2 at the University of New Hampshire.

Vaccine distribution: Nursing home residents and staffers, essential health care workers and first responders will be the priority when a vaccine for the coronavirus becomes available, according to New Hampshire’s vaccine distribution plan.

Beth Daly, chief of the bureau of infectious disease control, said Thursday the state also will prioritize vaccinating those populations in areas with the highest transmission rates for the virus.

The state will partner with primary care providers, hospitals and pharmacies in hopes of making the distribution as easy as the current process for obtaining a flu vaccine, she said.

Nursing homes: Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced new outbreaks at Colonial Poplin Nursing Home in Fremont, Maple Leaf Health Care Center in Manchester, Oceanside Center in Hampton, Ridgewood Center in Bedford and the Studley Home in Rochester. Altogether, 88 residents and 29 staff members are infected, she said.

The state is spending $6 million to increase testing at nursing homes statewide, Shibinette said. Officials are recommending that nursing homes begin testing all staff once a week. Currently, only those in communities with higher infection rates are required to do weekly tests. The state also is providing facilities with supplies to test visitors.

The numbers: More than 16,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic, including 527 new cases announced Friday. One new death was announced, bringing the total to 507.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 149 new cases per day on Nov. 5 to 401 new cases per day on Nov. 19.

Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott and the state health commissioner reiterated calls Friday for Vermonters to follow new COVID-19 restrictions, including not gathering with other households and avoiding travel.

They said they have seen very concerning growth in coronavirus cases in Vermont, and four deaths in the past two weeks, after months without a fatality.

“I cannot stress this enough. We need people to limit their contacts with others,” Scott said during his virus briefing.

He urged Vermonters to take a look at the state’s case numbers, rising hospitalizations and deaths and states around the country that are exceeding their hospital capacity.

“Also think about the Vermonters we’ve lost,” he said. “They were grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, dads, husbands wives and friends.”

Such deaths are increasing because the amount of virus in the community is rising and getting into facilities that care for seniors, he said.

With rising cases, it’s easy to think the worst, said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “But this is not a runaway train yet. It’s picking up speed, but we can get it under control if we all work together.”

Levine also provided news on when Vermont may get its first doses of a vaccine.

“Perhaps the earliest Vermont could see a vaccine on its doorsteps for a limited number of doses would be in the range of Dec. 10,” he said.

The governor clarified the ban on gatherings between households by saying that fitness activities between no more than two people from different households are allowed. Individuals in dangerous or unhealthy situations, may take shelter with another household and individuals who live alone may gather with one other household, he said.

“This means you can take a walk with a friend but you have to maintain distance and wear a mask,” he said. “But you have to maintain your distance and wear a mask."

Nursing home deaths: A Rutland nursing home is reporting two residents have died of COVID-19.

The deaths at Rutland Healthcare and Rehabilitation come as Vermont is coping with a surge in cases of the coronavirus.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by COVID-19 during this difficult time, especially the families of the two residents who passed away,” Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Genesis HealthCare, which runs the facility, said in a written statement.

The Rutland Herald reports t he facility conducted multiple rounds of testing and will continue to test every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday until further notice.

Surge hospital: The Vermont National Guard is expanding a surge hospital at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction in case the pandemic causes a need for extra hospital beds.

The state initially set up the Essex Junction field hospital and several others in March during the first wave of COVID-19. The Essex Junction site was the only one to house patients.

The field hospitals were mostly dismantled in May, but the state is reassembling some of them during the second wave of the virus.

The numbers: Vermont reported 146 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, for a statewide total to date of 3,459. Eighteen people were hospitalized, with one in intensive care.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 23.14 on Nov. 5 to 94.14 on Thursday. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 0.62% on Nov. 5 to 1.79% on Nov. 19.

State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Vermont the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

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