RVCC, Whelen produce 3D face masks in effort to equip health care workers

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CLAREMONT — As the battle against the new coronavirus continues across the globe, local leaders are doing their part to help those on the front lines: health care workers.

Hospitals across the country are experiencing shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), including nearby Valley Regional Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. In echoing the White House’s call-to-action for anyone who can donate any expendable PPE, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) offered instructions for residents to manufacture masks for the hospital’s use.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health facilities have already made strategic adjustments to best utilize our supplies but as this situation gains momentum we will need to address our depleting stock,” said Joanne M. Conroy, MD, CEO and president of D-HH. “No donation is too small.”

For Ken Czechowicz, requests for assistance from the community provided him with an idea.

As director of clinical education for the respiratory therapy program at River Valley Community College (RVCC), he identified that the institution’s resources could be applied to the ongoing situation outside of the classroom. Of these vast materials, 15 3D printers caught his eye.

As silence in spaces often dedicated to insightful deliberation endured at the institution, Czechowicz began his work to develop a prototype mask for use at local medical facilities to best ensure the health and safety of health care workers.

“I saw what was going on in the nation and having been in various medical businesses for close to 40 years I saw the opportunity to use the 3D printers,” Czechowicz said.

The professor located an open-source design on www.longliveyoursmile.com and created his first prototype within 10 hours.

He immediately brought the sample mask — and his vision — to RVCC President Alfred Williams and health officials at Valley Regional Hospital. There, he met with the procurement and supply manager, Angela Paquette, to see if the mask met medical standards to help health care workers. When Paquette returned from a briefing with Valley Regional Hospital administration, she gave Czechowicz the go-ahead to produce the masks for the hospital.

“I was restless and wanted to do something to help,” said Czechowicz as he watched the printers slicing the prototype. But he knew that producing 10 masks per day would not be enough.

He then shared the open-source mask design with the Sugar River Technical Center to get their 3D printers to turn some out as well. Czechowicz then contacted the Whelen Engineering Company in Charlestown. Jim Putnam, tooling manager at Whelen, and Czechowicz worked on cutting back printing time from 10 hours per unit to four hours per unit. Still, Czechowicz knew they had to do more. He reached out to Whelen Engineering President and CEO George Whelen who committed to manufacture the masks for the region.

Since the initial meeting, Whelen has adapted the original design and created a steel mold that will take a couple of days to set up. Soon, the plant will be able to manufacture these masks by the hundreds.

“Our people are on the front line, I want to do whatever it takes to help out,” Czechowicz said. “I’ve been in the business, I know what they need.”

The mask that will be making its way to local medical workers consists of two components which allows for the felt pads of current masks to be cut into thirds and slipped into the piece of equipment, creating three times the number of available masks at any given time. While the prototype mask was made of polylactic (PLA), Whelen is trying to insource medical grade plastic.

“This all started with Ken saying we can put our 3D printers to use,” Williams said. “I am really proud of what Ken has done and he is a major part of RVCC.”

Although Whelen will take over the production for the masks, Czechowicz and RVCC will remain in contact with the engineering firm as well as local and state officials to help in this time of crisis. RVCC has also worked with the Widmer and Davis Artisan Distilleries in Newport to create hand sanitizer out of ultrasound gel.

“Each person in the community can do something. We are all in this together,” Czechowicz said.

Czechowicz would like to give a special thanks to Alfred Williams, RVCC staff, Jim Putnam, Angela Paquette and Valley Regional Hospital staff.

New England states set up hospital overflow sites

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Here are developments from the states of New Hampshire and Vermont on new policies and initiatives in the fight against the new coronavirus:

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire has set up 14 “flex facilities” to handle hospital overflow if the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The facilities include 1,600 beds, bringing the state’s total bed capacity to more than 5,000. They will not be used unless absolutely necessary, Gov. Chris Sununu said, and the communities hosting them will not face any costs.

“While we hope the day never comes, we do have to be prepared,” he said. “We will be ready.”

Health care relief: The nonprofit trust that operates Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and Franklin Regional Hospital is the first beneficiary of a new $50 million emergency fund for health care facilities. LRGHealth will get a $5.2 million, zero-interest loan that will help it limit the number of staff facing furloughs, Sununu said.

Those furloughed workers also could find temporary jobs through a new Department of Employment Security system to redeploy health care workers.

Money matters: Sununu issued an executive order allowing towns and cities to eliminate the interest and penalties associated with late property taxes. He also said the state is shifting some of its cash reserves to smaller, local banks to provide them with greater liquidity so they can make loans to small businesses.

Grocery guidance: An association representing grocery stores is opening an emergency operations center and will be issuing guidance to stores about keeping shoppers and workers safe.

Stores will be encouraged to limit traffic to 50% of their building’s capacity, mark floors to keep people a part from each other at checkout lines, create one-way aisles to allow for greater distance between shoppers and install plexi-glass barriers in front of checkout workers.

Hiking near home: State parks will remain open, but Sununu issued a challenge to residents to get their fresh air close to home. He urged residents to explore their hometowns and share photos on social media tagged #homehikechallenge.

Crowds of people, including many from out of state, at popular hiking trails raised concerns about spreading the virus.

Some pig: When the coronavirus outbreak hit, Sarah Lang wasn’t worried about feeding her family. She worried about their 550-pound pig, Wilbur.

The pig, named after the “Charlotte’s Web” character, was won by her daughter Grace at a fair. He had grown accustomed to daily scraps of pizza, French toast and pancakes from an elementary school in Bedford, where students threw their leftovers in a bucket with the pig’s face on it.

But with the school’s closing, Lang was forced to serve grain normally reserved for the family’s goats, and Wilbur wasn’t having it. So, Lang turned to Facebook for help, prompting residents in Bedford and several nearby communities to begin dropping off their leftovers this week in a bucket for Wilbur in front of the family’s 22-acre property.

A video of Wilbur eating the pizza donated by a local shop is featured on his Facebook page.

The numbers: Nearly 550 people in New Hampshire have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Seven people have died, and more than 80 have been hospitalized. The two latest deaths, which was reported Friday, were one male and one female who were over 60 years old.

For most people, the virus 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.

Good to go: City employees in Rochester, New Hampshire, are getting lunch or dinner from a different restaurant each day in a “Good To Go” campaign to help support the businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The simple act of ordering a meal to go can make a huge difference to restaurant owners in the city while they are unable to have sit-in dining,” City Manager Blaine Cox said.

Participants in the campaign are encouraged to share photos tagged #GoodToGoRochesterNH.

VERMONT

Vermont officials said they are so desperate to find medical professionals to help with the state’s COVID-19 response, they’re even willing to use veterinarians to help with care for people.

Vermont is in the process of preparing almost 1,000 hospital beds in “medical surge facilities” statewide to help relieve pressure on existing hospitals when the COVID-19 peak arrives, which is currently expected later this month.

While officials are capable of setting up the extra beds, they don’t know who will staff them, so they are asking for help from a Medical Reserve Corps of retirees, students and others with some sort of medical experience, including veterinarians. They posted a volunteer sign-up location online.

“We need to build our reserves,” Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.

On Thursday, acting Human Services Secretary Michael Smith said officials are looking at anything that could possibly help.

“Certainly, veterinarians have extensive medical experience in terms of they’ve gone to school and what they’ve done,” Smith said.

Erin Forbes, a small animal veterinarian in Essex Junction and the spokeswoman for the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association, said part of their oaths as veterinarians was to protect the public and she felt some of Vermont’s vets would probably be willing to help.

“We are good at dealing with stress,” said Forbes, who worked as an emergency medical technician and would be willing to help out in the COVID-19 fight if needed. “I think it’s very intriguing and I think that if people are going to die and we can save their lives, I think most people probably wouldn’t care” that they’re being treated by a veterinarian, she said.

Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist and medical ethicist at the University of Vermont Medical Center who is helping the hospital confront the COVID-19 epidemic, said the medical community is being creative in looking for ways to confront the outbreak by finding people who can support the front-line medical professionals. He seemed skeptical that veterinarians could provide patient care to humans.

“They have some incredible skills we could use, but we want to make sure that anybody who is putting their hands on a person... is trained to do that work,” Lahey said.

Masks: Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday he is now recommending that Vermonters wear cloth face masks in public, even if they have no symptoms of COVID-19. It was previously thought that masks weren’t needed for healthy people, but that has changed as it has become clear that some people infected with COVID-19 can spread it before they show symptoms.

“Wearing a face mask may help (keep) people from spreading the virus,” Levine said.

But the most effective tool to fight COVID-19 is social distancing, he said.

The numbers: As of Friday, Vermont reported almost 400 positive cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths. Almost 30 patients were being treated in the state’s hospitals.

For most people, the virus 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.

New Hampshire to get $11.7M to help communities, homeless

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CONCORD — New Hampshire is getting an additional $11.7 million from the massive federal coronavirus relief package to help community service programs and the homeless, the state's congressional delegation announced Thursday.

Here are the latest coronavirus developments across the state:

AID FOR COMMUNITIES, HOMELESS

The $11.7 million in additional federal funding can be used to expand community health facilities, child care centers, food banks and senior services.

The money will also support eviction prevention, rental deposit assistance and homelessness prevention programs. The largest amount, nearly $7.5 million, will be administered through the Community Development Block Grant program to Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth, Dover, and Rochester.

The funding comes in addition to the $1.25 billion in federal aid for coronavirus response efforts announced last week, and $147 million announced Tuesday for schools, transit, law enforcement, child care, low-income heating and other needs.

THE NUMBERS

More than 400 people in New Hampshire have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Four people have died, and more than 50 have been hospitalized.

For most people, it 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.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

More than 27,000 in initial unemployment claims were filed in New Hampshire last week, down a little from the week before, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The latest number covers new claims through March 28. The number was over 29,000 for the week ending March 21. Before that, fewer than 700 claims were filed the the week ending March 14.

George Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Employment Security, said last week that before the coronavirus hit, the department averaged about 500 claims a week.

Insured unemployment claims in New Hampshire for the week ending March 21 were up to 27,624, compared to 4,024 the week before.

Those who wish to file a claim can go to www.nhes.nh.gov or call 271-7700.

SOME INMATES RELEASED

Some county jail inmates in New Hampshire who were convicted or accused of nonviolent crimes have been released to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, corrections officials said.

New Hampshire Public Radio reports the jail in Rockingham County, one of the larger ones in the state, has released about a dozen people. County Corrections Superintendent Stephen Church said the release of a defendant often depends on specific restrictions or requirements, such as daily check-ins, electronic monitoring or participation in programming.

The majority of inmates who have been released by county jails have been close to the end of their sentences, or have already been on work or weekend releases.

Correctional facilities across the state are putting new inmates under quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

Large retailers stop in-person sales of nonessential items in Vermont

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State officials in Vermont are ordering large retailers that sell critical items such as food and prescription drugs to stop the in-person sale of nonessential products.

Whenever possible, stores such as Walmart, Target and Costco must stop the sale of nonessential items and require online or telephone ordering, delivery and curbside pickup.

“Large ‘big box’ retailers generate significant shopping traffic by virtue of their size and the variety of goods offered in a single location,” Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said on Tuesday. “This volume of shopping traffic significantly increases the risk of further spread of this dangerous virus to Vermonters and the viability of Vermont’s health care system."

The items that cannot be sold in person include clothing, consumer electronics, books, furniture and sporting equipment.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS

Gov. Phil Scott is urging Vermonters to volunteer to help communities across the state affected by COVID-19. People willing to volunteer in areas such as child care, grocery workers or medical professionals can sign up at a state website.

“I am asking every Vermonter to dig deep and find a way to give more in this incredibly challenging time,” Scott said in a statement distributed Tuesday evening. "As we prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases expected in the coming weeks, it will require each and every one of us to do our part to ease the burden on our health care system, the struggles of those less fortunate, and, ultimately, to save the lives of our friends and neighbors.”

THE NUMBERS

As of Tuesday, Vermont had reported nearly 300 positive cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths.

There were 21 people hospitalized across Vermont for treatment of COVID-19 and an additional 52 patients were hospitalized “under investigation for COVID-19.”

Vermont candidates do not need to gather signatures to run

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MONTPELIER Vt, (AP) — Vermont is making temporary changes to its election laws amid the outbreak of new coronavirus, Secretary of State Jim Condos said.

Candidates will no longer have to gather petition signatures for the state's primary elections in August and the general election in November, Condos said Monday in a written statement. But candidates will still have to file financial disclosure statements, he said.

“Eliminating the requirement for candidates to collect signatures for petitions is necessary in this time when we are sheltering at home, avoiding gatherings, and avoiding unnecessary contact with other people,” Elections Director Will Senning said.

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 and death.

Remote learning poses hurdles for students with disabilities

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BOSTON — At school, Rose Hayes, 8, works with a team of teachers and therapists trained to help with her genetic condition. They set goals for her reading, give her physical therapy to improve her balance and make sure she stays on track. But for the last two weeks, her only connection to school has been through a computer screen.

Rose, home amid the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered schools across the country, now watches lessons her teacher posts to YouTube. Her therapists check in via video chat. In between, she works through daily assignments.

Her parents say it’s the best they can expect, but they still struggle. Rose has difficulty working on her own, so they need to stay nearby. And without the therapy equipment Rose uses at school, they have to improvise.

“We’re trying to be teachers. We’re trying to be therapists. We’re a little bit of everything right now, and it’s very stressful,” said Rob Hayes, of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He and his wife work for pharmaceutical companies and have continued working during the pandemic, trading turns staying home with Rose and their 2-year-old daughter.

Across the U.S., schools and families face new challenges in maintaining instruction for students with disabilities. Teachers are exploring new ways to deliver customized lessons from afar. And while parents of all children have taken on schooling duties, those whose children have disabilities are adding therapy, hands-on lessons and behavioral management to the list.

Last year, nearly 7 million U.S. students ages 3 to 18 received special education services, according to federal data. Schools are required to craft individual education plans for each one: For some, it's mostly a matter of providing extra time on assignments; others need an array of complex services, and some have lost access to expensive technology they use at school to help them communicate.

As they adapt to shutdowns, some schools are turning to video conferencing to provide lessons and therapy sessions, while others are bringing small groups of students back for services or training parents to help.

Some, though, have hesitated to move special education online. As virtual instruction began unrolling, the U.S. Education Department issued a reminder that students with disabilities must be granted the same opportunities as other students. It led some districts, including Philadelphia's public schools, to forgo online instruction entirely, citing concerns about their ability to serve all children.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos blasted that approach, saying schools have a duty to serve their students. She urged schools to use online platforms or, if that isn't possible, low-tech alternatives like work packets or written assignments.

“It was extremely disappointing to hear that some school districts were using information from the Department of Education as an excuse not to educate kids,” DeVos said in a March 23 statement. “This is a time for creativity and an opportunity to pursue as much flexibility as possible so that learning continues.”

Many districts say it's inevitable that families would have to help. Some are asking parents to guide students through daily lessons or administer tests measuring their children's progress, a key component of special education laws.

Officials in South Carolina's largest district said they know it's a tough ask, and they're asking families to set realistic expectations.

"We can't replicate the general education curriculum in the home, so we’re not trying to replicate the special education program either," said Traci Hogan, Greenville's assistant superintendent for special education services. “It's not perfect on our end, and we don’t expect it to be perfect on their end.”

Advocates say it's crucial that students with disabilities continue to receive instruction during closures. Research has found that breaks in schooling — even for a day or two — can erode ground on skills students were starting to master. But keeping them engaged from afar will be a challenge, schools say, especially for those with severe disabilities.

A rescue package approved by Congress aims to help by providing $13.5 billion that schools could use to buy computers and technology for students with disabilities. But it also asks DeVos to consider whether the government should temporarily waive requirements around the instruction of students with disabilities, a move disability advocates strongly oppose.

Amid rapid change, some parents say they already feel left out.

Darlene Gildersleeve, of Hopkinton, New Hampshire, has a 14-year-old daughter whose education plan includes counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy and specialized instruction. Her school is offering to arrange some of that by phone and Google Classroom, but Gildersleeve hasn’t heard anything about speech therapy or support for math, English and reading.

"I have no idea how to get on Google Classroom,” Gildersleeve said. “That’s a big concern of mine — will I be able to step in and help her?”

Some districts say it will be hard to avoid learning setbacks, especially in skills that are tougher to teach from afar. Honing social skills amid social distancing mandates, for example, has already proved challenging.

Rose Hayes' teacher tried to gather the class for a video conference, but some families didn't have the required technology, her father said. Elsewhere, teachers are using interactive video games to keep students connected, said Kelly Grillo, a special education coordinator for Cooperative School Services, an organization that works with nine school districts in Indiana.

But Grillo said some problems remain unsolved. She's currently grappling with how to help students who use costly Braille machines at school but don't have access to them at home.

“There are lots of barriers, but we can find lots of ways to work around them,” said Grillo, of Lafayette, Indiana. “Our field has never felt the urgency that it feels right now."

Roslyn Holcomb, a social worker in Dunwoody, Georgia, worries that her son Kell, 8, isn't learning at the same pace he was in the classroom. His school posts daily video lessons, and his teacher calls every day to go over assignments he found difficult. But Kell, who has autism, ADHD and a language processing disorder, needs his mother's help to stay focused.

Holcomb shifted her schedule to work nights so she can spend her days helping him. She appreciates what the school has done, but wonders how much longer the arrangement can last.

“It's labor intensive. It really is,” she said. “This is not something that we’ll be able to do for months."

Vermont orders 14-day isolation for those arriving in state

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MONTPELIER (AP) — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Monday ordered anyone arriving in the state to self-quarantine for 14 days to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID 19.

The governor's order applies to both Vermonters and out-of-staters arriving for anything other than “an essential purpose.”

The governor took the additional action after federal guidance that advised residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

"We need everyone entering Vermont to be a good neighbor and abide by the self-isolation directive and then to follow afterward the stay-home, stay-safe order,” Scott said during his regular Monday briefing.

He said the order does not apply to people who are going to the grocery store or who work across the border.

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 and death.

LODGING ORDER

Scott also followed up an order on Monday from last week to forbid all but essential lodging operations. The order applies to hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals. All campgrounds and recreational vehicle parks are also ordered closed.

The governor’s order does carry potential civil penalties of between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation, said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan. There is also a criminal penalty that carries a potential $500 fine and six months imprisonment.

“I want to be very clear, the last thing any of us wants to do is enforce these orders and seek those penalties,” Donovan said. “We are asking for your compliance, we are asking for your cooperation. That being said, we all know that we have a role to play in this crisis.”

Over the weekend, state and local police across the state checked on the 318 known lodging properties, said Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling. Of those, 88 properties were open and half of those were in compliance with the governor's order by housing people such as health care professionals, military personnel or flight crews.

Another 44 appeared to be non-compliant, Schirling said. The non-compliant establishments received a letter Sunday from the Health Department and the Department of Public Safety.

“To emphasize, we really expect voluntary compliance,” Schirling said.

CASES

As of Monday, Vermont was reporting more than 255 cases of COVID-19, up more than 20 from Sunday.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said seven of the fatalities were related to an outbreak at the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center.

An additional two fatalities were linked to a senior living facility in Essex Junction made up exclusively of people aged 55 or older, Levine said.

One of the fatalities was of a “significant other” of an employee at the center. The second fatality was of a resident.

NH commissioner: Virus to peak between late April, early May

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CONCORD — New Hampshire officials expect to see cases of the coronavirus peak in late April or early May, but are likely know more in the next week or so. In the meantime, state officials are looking to secure more ventilators, and Gov. Chris Sununu has decided it isn't yet necessary to order people to mostly stay at home.

A look at developments in New Hampshire:

EXPECTING THE SURGE

Coronavirus cases are expected to peak in New Hampshire sometime between the end of April and early May, the state’s health commissioner told the Executive Council on Wednesday.

“We’ll know and have more accurate numbers in the coming week or two on how much and when we expect that peak to be,” Commissioner Lori Shibinette said during the meeting, held by audio conference. “We’re watching numbers every day for that.”

Regarding personal protective equipment supplies, Shibinette said the state has a total of 1,000 ventilators or machines that can be converted to them and has ordered 45 more ventilators. She said the state also is going through its warehouse for equipment that could be resurrected.

Under normal circumstances, New Hampshire would rely on the Strategic National Stockpile for such supplies, she said.

"Tapping into the strategic national stockpile for everything we need has been challenging and we have not been able to get ventilators from them, so we have ordered some on the commercial market," Shibinette said.

Nearly 140 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in New Hampshire, with 19 of those people hospitalized. Nearly 30 new cases were announced Wednesday.

For most people, the virus 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. The vast majority of people recover.

STAY-AT-HOME DEBATE

New Hampshire Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli asked Sununu to issue an emergency order for residents to stay home as the state deals with the coronavirus, noting many of her constituents have called for that.

Pignatelli, a Democrat, said to her, such an order “closes nonessential businesses, and prohibits their employees from leaving their homes to work,” yet is not a complete lockdown. “You shouldn’t go to the hair or nail salon, you shouldn’t do things like leave town,” she said.

Separately, 200 Democratic House lawmakers in the state sent Sununu a letter Wednesday imploring him to issue an order requiring citizens to stay home and nonessential businesses to close.

Sununu, a Republican, said the majority of those types of businesses in the state have closed voluntarily and that other major steps taken — remote learning, a ban on gatherings of over 10 people, and restaurants only offering takeout — puts New Hampshire on the right path and in line with the region.

He noted that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, ordered in-person operations of non-essential businesses to close and Vermonters to stay home to help prevent the spreads of the coronavirus.

“They have about half our population and the same number of identified cases, and we’ve tested a lot more than they have, so they have quite an issue,” Sununu said. He said the state could potentially take more steps, as necessary.

LIQUOR CURBSIDE PICKUP?

Sununu said Wednesday that state officials are exploring the option of offering curbside pickup at New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said the details were still being worked out.

Restaurants and other businesses are offering drive-by services and curbside pickup services.

SCHOOL BUS WI-FI

At least one New Hampshire community has helped people needing to access the internet by using school buses as Wi-Fi hot spots.

Seacoastonline.com reports nine buses have been parked around Rochester to help with remote learning in the school district and accessing information. Signs taped on the inside of the buses’ windows provide the name of the secure network and password to access the hot spot. The signs also indicate the hot spots have a maximum range of about 300 feet.

Cable providers are providing free Wi-Fi hot spots across the country.

Fire Chief: 3 Claremont firefighters have ‘no signs’ of virus after contact with patient

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CLAREMONT - Three Claremont firefighters who were placed on quarantine for precautionary reasons have shown no signs or symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of their self-quarantine, according to Claremont Fire Chief Bryan Burr.

Burr told the Eagle Times that three Claremont firefighters went into self-quarantine on Tuesday, March 17, immediately upon learning that a Merrimack County man they had contact with on Friday, March 7, tested positive for the coronavirus COVID-19 this past Tuesday at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont.

“As soon as we were notified, we pulled those guys off duty as a precaution,” Burr told the Eagle Times on Saturday.

Barring a sudden change in health status, the firefighters are expected to come off quarantine at the end of the day, Saturday, March 21. The 14-day quarantine period is based on an individual’s date of exposure, as COVID-19 has a two-week incubation period, one week longer than influenza.

As of Saturday, the three firefighters are still “doing well, with no signs or symptoms” of the virus, and at this time could be able to resume duty tomorrow, Burr said.

The exposure occurred prior to the escalation of cases in New Hampshire that prompted Gov. Chris Sununu to declare a state of emergency on March 13.

Since Sunun’s declaration, the Claremont Fire Department has been operating under new safety protocol to prevent the risk of firefighters being exposed to the virus when in the public. Under the new policy, only one in a medical response will provide triage to a person, and the other firefighters will remain by the vehicle. Additionally, new screening questions have been added to the medical questions that firefights ask the person, to determine whether the respondee could be potentially infected by COVID-19.

Burr, who is also Claremont’s emergency management director for the city’s COVID-19 response plan, said that the department’s policies “have changed dramatically” since the first week of March.

Additionally, the policies, both locally and nationwide, are constantly changing with the progression of the epidemic. City residents are advised to check frequently for updates from the city, either on its website, www.claremontnh.com or the city’s facebook page, “City of Claremont, NH Government.”

'We will overcome this': Officials relay new policies, sense of hope amid virus concerns

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CLAREMONT — Local and school officials sent a unified message to the community that the city is working collaboratively during the statewide emergency response for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at a joint press conference Wednesday morning.

The joint panel included City Manager Ed Morris, Superintendent Michael Tempesta, Mayor Charlene Lovett, Police Chief Mark Chase, and Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Bryan Burr. Sullivan County Manager Derek Ferland was unable to attend but shared a written statement, which Lovett read on his behalf.

Prior to the meeting, Morris said the intent was to assure residents that local and county officials were operating “as a united front” to meet the community’s essential needs and provide critical information during the current state of emergency.

“We wanted to get the information out to the public and also show we are working on this together,” Morris said.

The conference attendance was limited to invitation-only, to keep the turnout under 10 people, the city’s attendance limit for public events. While CCTV did not record the meeting, the city presented the conference via a live feed on its Facebook page, “City of Claremont, NH Government.”

City officials also reiterated that all information will be available in press releases on the city’s website and Facebook page.

Morris notified the public that Claremont has established an “operational command system” to keep essential systems functioning during the state of emergency.

“Not only do we have directors and managers overseeing each operational group, we have also identified a second-in-command to ensure that each group continues to function [as intended],” Morris said.

As Mayor Lovett noted, Morris’s background as a former firefighter equips him with 18 years of experience in emergency response.

“This is invaluable, as he is charged with transitioning current municipal operations into an operational model that will facilitate essential activities while safeguarding public health during this time,” Lovett stated.

Lovett said that the city’s local officials are taking “unprecedented measures” to protect the community while it weathers a new and unfamiliar type of situation.

“We know this won’t be easy,” she said. “However, your [local governing bodies and administrators] are working together to lessen the hardship and threat of COVID-19.”

“Together, we will overcome this,” Lovett added.

CALL FIRST

Whether the subject is about a city or school need or feeling virus-like symptoms, local officials repeatedly advised residents to use the phone first, rather than make a physical visit.

All city departments and school buildings will be staffed to answer phone calls, though all schools and many city buildings, including the public library and community center, are closed to the public.

“We have also closed the city clerk’s office to walk-in customers, but are still taking payments through the dropbox at city hall and through online payment,” Morris said.

For other city services, even where departments are still partially open, Morris reiterated for residents to call first.

Burr shared a similar “call first” protocol for people who have symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“If you are exhibiting mild signs and symptoms of the flu, you are advised to stay home and quarantine,” Burr said. “If you are experiencing severe symptoms, contact your local health care provider, emergency department or call [the state’s emergency information hotline] 211,” Burr said.

Morris also said that the “drive-up testing centers” — such as those located at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Keady Family Practice and Valley Regional Hospital — “are only for people experiencing symptoms” associated with the virus. Residents must call their primary physician or the COVID-19 hotline, at (603) 650-1818, for diagnosis and to set up a testing appointment.

Some local medical officials have reported an issue with people visiting these testing stations with a desire to get tested for COVID-19 despite having any symptoms of illness.

Police Chief Chase also said that people should call the station for all non-emergency questions or problems, rather than visit the station in person.

“We have always had an active and busy lobby at the department, as having a central police department downtown makes it very easy to come to the lobby to speak to a police officer,” Chase said.

Chase assured residents that calls about non-emergency issues will be returned by a police officer.

The police will continue normal responses to emergency situations and take appropriate actions, though Chase said for residents to expect the officers to employ safety precautions, such as maintain a social distance or bring a conversation into an open space. These measures are meant to protect officers and also model the health precautions that citizens are also encouraged to use.

SCHOOLS BEGIN REMOTE LEARNING

Superintendent Tempesta provided times and locations for families to pick up student learning packets and materials to begin remote instruction.

The elementary schools — Bluff, Disnard and Maple Avenue — began distributing learning packets for their respective students Wednesday morning. Parents may still pick up their child’s materials Thursday from the attending school anytime from 8 a.m. to noon or 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Materials for students at Claremont Middle School or Stevens High School may be picked up today during those same time periods.

Free breakfast and lunch will be available for pickup daily outside each school building, Tempesta said. Pick-up times for breakfast will be from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and for bagged lunches from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

For students who lack or have limited online resources, Chromebooks are available for sign out. Parents should call the SAU 6 office at (603) 543-4200 to request a Chromebook or for other educational needs or inquiries.

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CONCORD — New Hampshire is getting an additional $11.7 million from the massive federal coronavirus relief package to help community service programs and the homeless, the state's congressional delegation announced Thursday.

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CONCORD — New Hampshire students will skip standardized tests this spring and businesses will have more time to pay their taxes, Gov. Chris Sununu said Monday as the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state surpassed 300.

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