Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:
New Hampshire experienced a small increase in the number of coronavirus infections over the last one to two weeks, but it’s not believed to be a surge, the state epidemiologist said Tuesday.
Dr. Benjamin Chan said on average, the state has reported about 30 new infections per day. He said going back three to five weeks, it was about 20 to 25 infections per day.
“We are going to see the numbers continue to fluctuate up and down, that’s expected. We do not currently believe we are seeing another surge of COVID-19 in our state,” Chan said at a news conference. He said the percent positivity rate of tests and hospitalizations remain stable and low.
Chan added, “we believe that lower levels of community transmission continue to occur in many parts of the state, and for that reason, we need everybody to continue to protect themselves and their families, and help to prevent further spread of COVID-19 within the communities.”
As of Tuesday, 6,693 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 33 from the previous day. One new death was announced, for a total of 418. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks; it was 21 new cases per day on July 20, and 28 new cases per day on Aug. 3.
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.
Fauci discusses mask mandates: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Monday warned against reopening schools in coronavirus hotspots.
Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, spoke via video conference to physicians and medical students at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He said while the nation’s “default principle” should be that children return to school, “to say that every child has to go back to school is not really realizing the fact that we have such a diversity of viral activity.”
“There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school,” he said. ”So you can’t make one statement about bringing children back to school in this country, it depends on where you are.”
Determined to reopen America’s schools despite coronavirus worries, President Donald Trump recently threatened to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. He and top White House aides also have been ramping up attacks against Fauci, with Trump saying the longtime public health official has “made a lot of mistakes.”
In the discussion Monday, Fauci was also asked about how to accelerate public acceptance of face coverings to prevent the spread of the virus. He cited two problems: Young people who don’t take the virus seriously, and those who have politicized the wearing of masks.
“Wearing a mask if you don’t take this seriously is a tough one to sell, and it becomes even more tough when there’s this political symbolism of, if you wear a mask, you’re on this side of the political spectrum and if you don’t wear a mask, you’re on that side,” he said. “Which is completely crazy because this is a disease and virus and public health issue, and not a political issue.”
New Hampshire is the only New England state without a mask mandate for the general public, and for now, the number of people testing positive for the virus remains low. But that likely will change in September, Dr. Joanne Conroy, president and CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said when asked whether Republican Gov. Chris Sununu should issue a mask mandate.
“I would say we’re having a bunch of students come back in the fall, and UNH is having a bunch of students coming back, from all over the country — we should probably get used to mask wearing because we should expect the incidence of infection to increase,” she said. “As leaders we have to support universal masking because I know it will protect the individuals in our community. I understand all the political ramifications for each of these governors to take that stand but as leaders, we know it’s going to keep people safe, so we may have to lead on that.”
Small farms: Gov. Chris Sununu announced a new grant program for small farmers and another for community college students with expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Thursday, farmers who make less than $50,000 in gross sales can apply to a $1 million fund to cover expenses. The application period ends Aug. 31.
Pick up your trash: A plea to those visiting northern New Hampshire from a chamber of commerce: Please pick up your trash and wear a mask.
The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce says even with the threat of a $100 fine and towing, cars crowd the roads near popular swimming holes and waterfalls and visitor leave a trail of trash. And not all are following guidelines to wear a mask and practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We continue to see and hear stories at the chamber about the general disregard for good old’ American manners. It’s taken us all by surprise,” Janice Crawford, the organization’s executive director, said Tuesday.
Mask ordinance: Local officials in the college town of Durham, New Hampshire, have passed an ordinance requiring face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Seacoastonline.com reports the masks are mandatory in certain areas for employees of all businesses, pedestrians, and other areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. It also applies to patrons inside restaurants and bars who aren’t seated at a table.
The masks are required in the Central Business, Professional Office, Church Hill and Courthouse zoning areas.
The emergency ordinance, passed by the Town Council on Monday night, carries fines of $100 and up. It expires as of Oct. 2 ad would need to be renewed or modified after that.
It does not apply to children under age 10 or those who can provide a medical exemption.
Town administrator Todd Selig issued an order in late May requesting residents to wear face coverings but said compliance “has been less than desired.” With thousands of students set to return to the University of New Hampshire later this month, numerous community members have said they will avoid downtown Durham and shop elsewhere unless mask wearing is mandated, he said.
Vermont started taking applications on Tuesday for hazard pay for essential health care, public safety and human services workers who responded to the COVID-19 public health emergency from March 13 through May 15.
Covered employers may apply online to provide $1,200 or $2,000 in hazard pay to each employee who worked during that time frame, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said. A total of $28 million in federal funding is available and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligibility is based on risk of exposure to the virus, number of hours worked and other factors, Scott said.
The Legislature passed the measure to allocate the funding.
“On behalf of all Vermonters, please know you all have our deepest gratitude for your hard work and sacrifice, for putting in those long hours, spending time away from your families, the care you’ve given your patients and your perseverance to all of this in a spirit of being true public servants,” Scott said Tuesday during his regular COVID-19 press briefing.
The best way to support these workers is to continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus by keeping at least 6 feet apart when possible, wearing a mask, washing hands a lot and staying home when sick, he said.
Infected inmates: The state was awaiting pending test results for 90 Vermont inmates held at a Mississippi prison where 85 Vermont inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.
Vermont houses 219 inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, because of a lack of capacity in its own prisons. After six inmates returning to Vermont from the private Mississippi prison last month tested positive, the state Corrections Department on July 30 ordered that the remaining Vermont inmates in Mississippi be tested. Another Vermont inmate held in the facility had already tested positive after having a fever.
“In hindsight, you know, I should have seen this coming in some respects,” said Scott. But the state was relying on the company operating the private prison, CoreCivic, to do the testing and “they were testing with symptomatic cases and not throughout,” he said.
“Mississippi is experiencing a high number of cases and so they are right in that sunbelt along with a number of other states in that region,” Scott said.
The Vermont Department of Corrections used to only test symptomatic individuals but now regularly tests all staff and inmates and every new intake, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. Vermont has insisted on regular testing of the population in the Mississippi facility, separating those who tested negative from those who tested positive and testing staff, Smith said.
The outbreak adds to critics’ concerns about housing inmates out of state. Scott’s administration had proposed building a new correctional facility in Vermont but the Legislature opposed it.
“I do think it’s time for us to revisit that because we know our facilities, our infrastructure, is outdated and needs to be upgraded and we need to bring our offenders back to Vermont,” Scott said.
The numbers: Vermont reported five new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, for a total of 1,431 statewide since the pandemic began. The total number of deaths remained at 57. One person was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Parking enforcement: The pandemic-induced free parking on city streets in Montpelier and Barre is coming to an end.
The Vermont cities will resume metered parking on Monday, but reminders will be issued initially, instead of parking tickets, the Times Argus reported. Parking enforcement workers returned from voluntary furloughs on Monday.
The Montpelier City Council is expected to reinstate parking enforcement at its Aug. 12 meeting, but has indicated that active enforcement won’t start until Aug. 17. Parking at city-owned lots in Montpelier will remain free until mid-September.
Staff and children at Maine’s day care facilities must now wear masks per new guidelines from the state.
The guidelines require mask use for children ages 5 and older and recommend it for those 2 through 4, WCSH-TV reported. The new rules went into effect on Monday.
The Maine Office of Child and Family Services said in a statement that the new guidance “has been provided knowing that it’s likely to evolve as our understanding of the virus evolves and as circumstances change.”
The new rules follow broad face-covering requirements around the state, including at schools.
Bar Harbor visitors: Physicians at Mount Desert Island Hospital told the Portland Press Herald they believe at least 35 out-of-state residents carrying the virus have been on the island this summer. Those visitors could have spread the disease in the community, the paper reported.
Dr. Julius Krevans Jr., the hospital’s chair of infection prevention, said Maine “by virtue of both its geography and excellent state leadership, has done very well so far, but this situation represents a clear and present danger that should be addressed.”
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Nirav Shah said the state is in touch with the hospital to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Vaccine prep: Shah said the state isn’t waiting for the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine to make plans about how to get it to residents. He said Maine CDC is working with healthcare providers are other stakeholders to develop a plan to get the vaccine to as many Mainers as possible once it becomes available.
Planning to deliver the vaccine will mean determining how to get it to people as well as who will need to get it first and when they should get it, Shah said. He said residents should get in touch with their primary care providers in advance of the approval of the vaccine.
The numbers: Maine has had more than 3,900 reported cases of the virus and more than 120 deaths. Public health authorities reported more than a dozen new cases so far this week.
For most people, the 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.
Online college: A college in Maine that focuses on environmental studies and sustainability said it plans to permanently transition to a hybrid model of in-person and online learning.
Unity College announced the move by its board of trustees on Monday. The college said the board also authorized leadership to consider selling the main campus in Unity.
College president Melik Peter Khoury said the change is “a major stride toward Unity College’s mission to provide a more diverse, just, equitable, and sustainable education.” The college said the new model will allow students to continue their education during unforeseen events, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Khoury said the financial impact of the pandemic expedited the plan to move to a hybrid model, but he added the change is “not simply a reaction to the pandemic.” He said eliminating the need for a centralized campus will allow the college to hold in-person and online courses in multiple locations.
Portland schools: The superintendent of schools in Maine’s largest city is recommending a hybrid learning model of in-person and online instruction to begin the school year.
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana wants elementary school students to attend school in-person two days per week for the start of the school year, the Portland Press Herald reported. The goal would be to bring them back to school five days per week by the middle of October.
Under Botana’s plan, middle school students and high school freshmen would attend in-person classes two days a week. Older high school students would mostly take classes remote.
Students throughout the district will also have the option of remote-only education this year.
The plan was slated to go before the Board of Public Education on Tuesday.