Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:
New HampshireHalf of the student body at Dartmouth College will be back on campus by Jan. 18, but most undergraduate classes will continue to be taught remotely.
In an online community conversation this week, Provost Joseph Helble said confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Grafton County are 10 times higher than they were in October.
“If the disease begins to accelerate and we find that we are getting increasing caseloads that reach the point where they are difficult to manage, we are going to have to very carefully assess our plans,” Helble said.
Given the lengthy rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, Helble said, a return to regular operations is unlikely this spring. In the meantime, college officials are expanding wellness offerings and winter activities, including ice skating rinks on the campus green.
Quarantine advice: New Hampshire residents who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or were previously infected no longer need to quarantine after being exposed to an infected person or after traveling, according to new guidance from the state Division of Public Health Services.
Under previous guidance, anyone who was exposed to the virus was advised to quarantine for 14 days, while those returning to New Hampshire after traveling outside of England were told to quarantine for 10 days.
An update issued Monday says those quarantine periods are unnecessary if someone is at least 14 days past their second dose of the vaccine or if they are within 90 days of being infected.
The guidance urges people with prior infections to also get vaccinated, however. And officials continue to discourage any nonessential travel, even for those who are vaccinated or had previous infections, because “protection is not 100%, durability of immunity is still unknown, and there are new circulating strains” of the virus that are being investigated.
UNH testing: The University of New Hampshire is ramping up its efforts to process coronavirus tests for the state.
The university recently partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to handle testing for 30 long-term care facilities and shelters. Since late December, it has processed more than 3,000 tests, but the lab expects eventually to process up to 1,000 tests a day for the state.
The lab is using federal virus relief aid for the partnership. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said it ensures faster results at a time when national testing labs are seeing increased demands.
Hybrid public hearings: The New Hampshire House plans to hold “hybrid” public hearings on bills while the Statehouse remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Speaker Sherm Packard said Monday.
Packard, R-Londonderry, told business leaders that lawmakers will attend the hearings in-person while all public testimony will be done by phone or video. Lawmakers who do not wish to attend in person also can join remotely, he said during an online discussion with other legislative leaders organized by the Business and Industry Association.
“We just had the machines delivered today that are going into the committee rooms that will clean the air five times per hour,” he said. “We hope to at some point to get back to doing things in person again.”
The Senate held its first online public hearings Monday. Sen. Donna Soucy, the Senate minority leader, said nearly 60 people attended.
“We had more people participating, at least tuning in, than ever before,” said Soucy, D-Manchester. “Doing things virtually has opened up a lot of opportunity, particularly for business people who would find it difficult to drop things in the middle of day, drive to Concord have to wait sometimes for hours to testimony when the hearing before went too long.”
The 24-member Senate also met in an online session last week, but House Republican leaders have resisted that idea. Instead, the 400-member House convened from their cars Wednesday in a parking lot at the University of New Hampshire.
The numbers: More than 53,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 842 cases announced Tuesday that included totals from several days. Nine new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 878.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 611 on Dec. 28 to 711 on Monday.
VermontVermont has seen more new coronavirus cases in the past five days than it did from May through September, officials said Tuesday.
The increase follows a spike in cases after Christmas, but it’s too soon to say whether there has been a similar spike following the New Year’s holiday.
Nevertheless, officials expect the number of new cases of the virus to increase from the current average of more than 160 cases a day to nearly 300 by early February, said Mike Pieciak, the Vermont commissioner of financial regulation, who manages COVID-19 statistics for the state.
During a regular twice-weekly virus briefing, Gov. Phil Scott and others urged Vermonters to follow long-standing guidance designed to reduce transmission of the virus, wearing masks, maintaining social distance and avoiding crowds.
“The decisions that we all make today, both large and small — following the public health guidance and doing all of those things to protect ourselves and our families and our communities — will help ensure that we beat this estimated forecast,” Pieciak said Tuesday after outlining the statistics.
The increase comes as the state continues with its plan to vaccinate health care professionals and older adults living in long-term care facilities — people who are at the greatest risk of death from COVID-19. State officials are expected to outline this week their plans to continue the vaccination program focusing on the oldest, and most vulnerable, Vermonters first.
The same statistics show that Vermont is tied for first among Northeastern states and tied for sixth in the nation for the rate of administration of vaccines to the population.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that it would still probably be another month or so before the vaccine takes full effect, and that the number of cases in long-term care facilities show significant declines in COVID-19 infections among residents and staff.
Still, health officials are not seeing significant growth in cases in facilities where COVID-19 infections have been reported, although that process began before the vaccination program began last month.
“That’s favorable news,” Levine said. “If we can prevent new facilities from becoming added to that list because of the haste with which we are trying to address (with vaccines) all of the long-term care facilities, the skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and the residential care, then that will have been a great success.”
Despite the increases, Vermont continues to have some of the most favorable rankings in the country on a number of key measures, including the positivity rate, hospitalizations, new cases and fatalities.
Back at work: All of the Vermont State Police troopers who work the night shift out of the Rutland barracks are back at work after being exposed to the coronavirus, officials said.
The nine troopers who were exposed represent the entire night shift. None tested positive.
The troopers were exposed Dec. 29, but it’s unclear how.
State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman said the troopers began quarantining early last week. On Monday, he said all the tests had been completed and all the troopers had been cleared to return to duty.
Education: The Vermont Agency of Education is working a plan for education recovery work to mitigate the impact the coronavirus emergency has had on students, Education Secretary Daniel French said Friday.
Three areas of focus will be on mental health and well-being; reengagement and truancy; and academic success and achievement, he said during the state’s biweekly virus briefing.
The agency anticipates requiring each school district to submit a recovery plan, which will help as the state determines how to coordinate the use of federal coronavirus relief funding, he said. The state is expected to get $133 million for K-12 education, he said.
French said expects schools to start engaging in recovery work later this winter and into the spring, which will require more in-person instruction and in-person contact.
“So as the conditions improve in the coming months and the advent of more vaccine and warmer weather, we expect most schools will be able to return to nearly full in-person instruction after April vacation,” he said.
The numbers: The Vermont Health Department on Tuesday reported 167 new cases of the virus, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to almost 9,250.
There are 51 people hospitalized, including 10 in intensive care.
The state reported two additional deaths Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 158.
The latest average positivity rate in Vermont is 2.47%. 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.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 2.06% on Dec. 28 to 2.47% on Jan. 11.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 83.71 new cases Dec. 28 to 172.14 on Jan. 11.