Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic in New England:
The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 1,000 reports from New Hampshire of scammers seeking to take advantage of people during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in about $1.5 million in losses, according to U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan.
“These scams take many forms, including offering expedited access to economic stimulus payments for a fee, impersonating public health officials, and selling phony products that they claim can prevent or cure COVID-19,” Hassan and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, both Democrats, wrote in a letter Thursday to several federal agencies. They added, “Government and industry should always cooperate to fight illegal robocalls, but it is even more critical at a time when so many Americans are facing economic and health concerns.”
The senators are asking for information about how the agencies are working together to take enforcement actions against COVID-19-related scammers. In addition to the FTC, they addressed the Internal Revenue Service; Department of Justice; and Federal Communications Commission.
The senators are also following up on a letter they sent to the IRS requesting information on what it is doing to protect Americans from scams related to stimulus payments.
Wellness kits: As families deal with disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, several state agencies are teaming up to distribute 25,000 health and wellness kits to New Hampshire families that include dental supplies, medication disposal pouches, and flyers on monitoring emotional and mental well-being.
The New Hampshire National Guard is packing the kits. It will deliver them to participating schools and regional pick-up sites over the next two weeks.
The kits also have a family well-being guide. There’s also information on the “Choose Love” social-emotional learning program, and on pre-kindergarten readiness.
The project is coordinated by the departments of education, health and human services, in addition to the guard.
“While we are all working hard to protect the physical health of our children, social and emotional well-being remains of the utmost importance,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement Thursday.
The numbers: As of Friday, 5,671 people in New Hampshire had tested positive for the virus, an increase of 34. Eight new deaths were reported, for a total of 365 people who have died from the coronavirus.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.
Fund: A fund has been created to help sole proprietors in New Hampshire experiencing hardship during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.
The Self Employment Livelihood Fund will offer amounts up to $50,000 to those mom-and-pop businesses that qualify.
He said it’s estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 individuals statewide are going through unemployment or identified themselves through applying for the Main Street Relief Fund for small businesses, which did not cover sole proprietors.
“There’s clearly a need there on the self-employment side,” he said.
People can apply from July 6 to July 17.
Sununu also announced a $1.5 million fund to go to Volunteer NH, which supports and sponsors national service initiatives and provides training, recognition and a central site for volunteers and volunteer programs to strengthen communities.
Hotels and campgrounds: Starting Monday, all hotels and campgrounds in New Hampshire will be able to operate at 100% occupancy.
Smaller inns and other lodging were allowed to reopen June 5 at full capacity, with larger venues at 50% capacity.
Sununu said there is “no direct evidence of severe breakouts of COVID-19 due to lodging.”
For out-of-staters, a quarantine-at-home rule for 14 days before arriving still applies.
Unemployment: More than 5,200 initial unemployment claims were filed in New Hampshire last week, down by more than 1,100 from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday.
The latest number covers new claims through June 20.
The number of new claims in a week peaked at 39,000 in early April and has since been declining. New Hampshire has paid out $660 million in unemployment claims since March.
Nascar fans: Fans will be allowed — with social distancing — at the NASCAR race scheduled at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Aug. 2.
The Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, originally scheduled for July 19, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Speedway said Thursday there will be social distancing in the grandstands and concession lines; enhanced cleaning and sanitation in high-touch, high-traffic public areas; added hand-sanitizer stations; limited guests in suites; and infield admission for race team and operational personnel only. The event, which can seat 60,000 people, would be filled at 35% capacity.
Masks would be required for employees, and suggested for spectators. No camping is allowed.
Vermont is expanding the area from where people can visit the state without quarantining to dozens of more low-COVID-19 counties as far away as Ohio and West Virginia, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.
The goal of the expanded program that begins July 1 is to make it possible for more people to visit Vermont easily and help revive the state’s tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic’s closures.
The new counties, which have COVID-19 infection rates of less than 400 active cases per million residents, exclude the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast. People from those areas are still required to quarantine for two weeks if they arrive in Vermont.
And people must drive. People who fly to Vermont are still bound by the quarantine requirements, the Republican governor said.
“By welcoming people from low-risk counties we can help support our hospitality sector and the thousands of jobs it provides Vermonters,” Scott said.
The allowable areas have expanded over the last several weeks and Scott says it will be updated regularly.
The numbers: The Vermont Health Department reported seven new cases Friday of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to just under 1,200. The number of deaths remains at 56, with four people hospitalized statewide.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Vermont has reported a number of new cases in recent days that are part of well-defined clusters. He says the clusters have been contained and they do not pose a threat to Vermont’s continued reopening.
Rutland police officers: Eight police officers in Vermont who were involved in the arrest and transfer of a Pennsylvania woman later found to have COVID-19 have tested negative in their first round of tests, a police chief said Friday.
Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said the officers will be tested a second time.
The woman was asymptomatic and police had no reason to believe she was sick, department Commander Greg Sheldon told the Rutland Herald. Police had responded to the report of a stolen vehicle on June 17 and learned that the suspect had active arrest warrants in Pennsylvania. The woman was arrested and taken to the police station.
Two officers then took her to the Springfield jail. She was provided a mask, but she didn’t have it on “for a good majority of the time because she just refused and there’s nothing we can do to make her wear it,” Sheldon said.
She was then taken to the women’s prison in South Burlington where she tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Corrections Department.
Inmates: Vermont is reexamining its intake policy for new inmates after several have recently tested positive for COVID-19 at state prisons, said Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith.
A new inmate at the St. Albans prison has tested positive and has been quarantined, he said Wednesday. The inmate was tested on June 19 and the result was negative but a second test on Monday was positive, according to the St. Albans Messenger. The inmate’s contacts are being traced, Smith said. Since the inmate has been quarantined since arriving, a full testing of inmates and staff may not be needed, he said.
Meanwhile, testing is underway at the women’s prison in South Burlington and has been completed at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, which both had new intakes test positive for the illness caused by the coronavirus. The inmates were from out of state.
The Department of Corrections is considering its intake protocols and may send new inmates to one or two facilities to be quarantined, Smith said.
New inmates pose the greatest risk at correctional facilities, he said. “We’re putting too many facilities at risk as we quarantine at individual facilities,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure our facilities are clear of this virus.”
Maine innkeepers and hoteliers are opening their doors to out-of-state tourists on Friday for those who’ve either tested negative for the coronavirus or are willing to quarantine for 14 days.
But many say visitors are canceling over the measures.
Greg Dugal, spokesman for HospitalityMaine, said a survey of 51 testing locations between Maine and Virginia revealed only four locations where someone could get tested and get results within 72 hours or arriving in Maine.
“There’s not enough availability for tests,” Dugal said.
A panel that’s tasked with assisting with the recovery of the state’s tourism industry is recommending easing the testing and quarantine requirements. The requirements apply to all states except New Hampshire and Vermont.
Draft recommendations from the Hospitality, Tourism and Retail subcommittee of Gov. Janet Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee suggests Maine’s outlier status is going to hurt the state’s tourism industry, the Portland Press Herald said.
“We feel compelled to make this recommendation because the economic consequences are so massive for these sectors and Mainers more generally,” the draft report said.
The subcommittee’s suggestions are not final and may be revised based on input from the full economic recovery panel.
The numbers: Maine public health officials said Friday that 32 more people have tested positive for the virus. That brings the state’s total to 3,102. The number of deaths remained flat at 103.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Racial disparity: Democratic state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross said Friday members of the Maine Black community received an invitation from Mills to talk about racial disparity and coronavirus in the state. Black residents make up more than a fifth of Maine’s positive coronavirus cases, though they make up less than 2% of the state population overall.
Talbot Ross and others held a news conference on Thursday to talk about the disparity and how the state can respond to it. She said the invitation is a sign that “there’s progress.”
Mills and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Friday the state is working to address the disparity. Mills said she’d like to see a specific proposal about how CARES Act funds can be used to help.
Municipal grants: Mills also announced that her administration has approved nearly $9 million in grants to almost 100 municipalities in the state as part of the Keep Maine Healthy Plan that supports coronavirus prevention and education efforts.
The grants are made possible by federal money. Mills said the grants can help with public education activities, public health support, local business assistance and other essentials.
Be kind: Business groups in Maine are launching a campaign called “Let’s Be Kind” in the wake of reports of customers harassing employees about state health guidelines. The customers don’t want to follow the guidelines, such as using face masks, WCSH-TV reported.
The Retail Association of Maine, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association launched the new campaign on Thursday. It’s intended to encourage people to prioritize respect and kindness while following safety guidelines.
High school sports: The Maine Principals’ Association has released rules for high school sports, but has not yet scheduled any fall games.
The phased-in approach allows students to reenter athletic facilities for the first time since early spring to begin physical training, and to participate in two-week summer sessions aimed at individual disciplines.
There will be no team hydration stations during the early phases, so students, coaches and staff must bring their own water or face being turned away, the MPA said.
Masks will be required when social distancing cannot be maintained with exceptions for training periods and intense physical activities, the MPA said.