0512 Online Virus Outbreak New Hampshire Reopens Malls

A couple, both wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, head to their car after visiting the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester, N.H., Monday, May 11, 2020. Some New Hampshire retail locations, including larger shopping plazas, reopen on Monday after shutting down due to the coronavirus in March.

Here are the latest developments pertaining to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic from around New England:

New Hampshire

Gov. Chris Sununu said he won’t hesitate to shut down shopping malls again if safety guidelines aren’t followed.

Monday was the first day that nonessential retail stores, hair salons and golf courses could reopen in New Hampshire under restrictions aimed at preventing spread of the coronavirus.

The Republican governor praised efforts by the Simon Property Group to enact safety measures at the Mall at Rockingham Park, the Pheasant Lane Mall, the Mall of New Hampshire and the Merrimack Outlets, but said the state will be closely monitoring them.

“I will not hesitate to reassess my position on allowing shopping malls to open if the guidance is not properly followed," he wrote to the company's president.

Mary Sawyer, a United Way of Greater Nashua volunteer, handed out 60 free masks in an hour to a steady stream of shoppers at the Pheasant Lane Mall. Most people were already wearing masks, she said.

“Of those who aren't, the majority happily take a mask. Of course, some people are refusing or asking if it's mandatory,” she said. “Some people have also said they've been reusing the same mask for a long time now and that they're hard to find.”

Spending decisions: Lawmakers advising the governor on spending New Hampshire’s $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid made initial recommendations Monday totaling $345 million.

Together with the $255 million Sununu already has spent, the recommendations from the bipartisan legislative advisory board would account for about half the total the state must spend by Dec. 31.

The largest recommended portion is for health care, with $100,000 for hospitals, $20 million for long-term care facilities and $40 million for other providers.

An additional $100 million would go toward helping small and medium-size businesses, particularly those that did not receive federal loans to cover payroll during the pandemic.

Nonprofit organizations would get $30 million, along with $5 million for the New Hampshire Food Bank. The University System of New Hampshire would get $10 million, while the community college system would get half that amount, as would private colleges and universities.

Child care providers, including after school programs, would get $25,000.

Nursing home workforce: Nursing homes struggling to retain workers during the pandemic could get help through an emergency order issued Monday.

The order creates a new job position of “temporary health partner” to help residents with tasks such as bathing and grooming, as well as providing end-of-life comfort.

There have been outbreaks at 18 long-term care facilities statewide, including new outbreaks reported Monday at the Hillsborough County Nursing Home and the Community Resources for Justice.

While deaths at such facilities account for more than three-quarters of the COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire, they represent a smaller fraction of the state’s total nursing home population compared to some nearby states, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette.

In Massachusetts, nearly 5% of nursing home residents have died, she said, compared with less than 1% in New Hampshire.

School plans: New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on Monday announced the formation of a task force to provide recommendations on bringing back students into school this fall.

The School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce plans to issue preliminary recommendations by June 30.

The numbers: As of Monday, 3,160 people in New Hampshire had tested positive for the virus, an increase of 89 from the previous day. There have been at least 133 coronavirus-related deaths in the state.

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 the infirm, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Vermont

Retail stores will be allowed to open next week in Vermont at 25% capacity and must abide by health and safety requirements as the state takes another step to gradually reopen the coronavirus-stricken economy, Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday.

Vermont has the third-slowest rate of case growth in the country and reported no positive tests or deaths from the virus that causes COVID-19 from Sunday, Scott said. The state still needs to remain vigilant because of the outbreaks in nearby states, he said.

“Even as we continue to reopen, I urge Vermonters not to let up on physical distancing, washing your hands and staying home when ill, limiting travel and wearing masks around others,” he said.

He said he's asked the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to work with the departments of Health and Public Safety to create and release guidance this week for the gradual reopening of retail May 18.

All retail employees must wear facial coverings, and everyone must maintain 6 feet between them, he said. Customers are also encouraged to wear face coverings, he said.

Manufacturing, construction and distribution businesses were allowed to return to full capacity this week.

The decisions are driven by data, science and the recommendations of experts, he said.

“Instead of taking two steps forward and one step back, we chose to take 1 1/2 steps forward without having to retreat,” he said.

School cases: A small outbreak of the coronavirus has been reported at the Vermont School for Girls in Bennington, a residential treatment service for girls with special needs.

A small number of people at the school tested positive, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, who did not say how many. All the residents and staff were tested at the end of last week and the weekend, he said.

The school said Monday that it had no immediate comment.

Testing: People who are returning to Vermont, such as those who have spent the winter away, second homeowners or college students, can get tested for the coronavirus on day seven of their 14-day quarantine, Levine said.

If they test negative, they may end their quarantine, he said. They are eligible for testing at pop-up sites for symptom-free health care workers, first responders and child care providers serving essential workers.

They are by appointment only and will be held Tuesday at Bennington College, Thursday at Brattleboro Union High School and Saturday at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction.

The state is now able to do 1,000 coronavirus tests a day and is encouraging people with even mild symptoms to call their health care provider to get a referral to get tested, Levine said.

The Health Department is also encouraging health care providers to refer their patients with mild symptoms, including children, for testing, he said.

“Without a vaccine, testing is the keys to managing the virus over the long term, and getting life back to normal,” Scott said.

The numbers: The state health department reported no new coronavirus cases or deaths on Monday. Nearly 930 people in Vermont have tested positive for the virus, and 53 people have died.

Symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, have expanded from fever, cough and shortness of breath to include chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell, Levine said.

“We expect there are many more people who are infected than the 900 plus who have tested positive to date,” he said.

Maine

Retailers in 12 counties that have not experienced large numbers of coronavirus cases began reopening Monday in Maine.

New guidelines announced late last week by Gov. Janet Mills allow retail stores to reopen with enhanced safety precautions in all parts of Maine except four counties: York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Penobscot. Restaurants follow on May 18.

The Maine Center for Disease Control will be monitoring infection rates and will make suggestions if there's an increase, said Dr. Nirav Shah, CDC director.

“We're continuing our analysis of the data because we want to make sure that if a secondary spike were to occur, that we’re able to spot it and able to take policy steps accordingly," Shah told reporters.

LaNiece Sirois from the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce encouraged customers to be patient as retailers sort out safety restrictions. Among other things, retailers have limits on how many people can be in a store at a time, she said.

Restaurants are preparing to reopen in week.

“The priority for us is giving the community an outlet to come join us. I feel like, sure, people want to go and have a meal but more than that they want to reconnect with people in their community,” said Ken Hall from JR Maxwell’s Restaurant in Bath.

Shipyard attendance: Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works resumed normal attendance policies.

Shipbuilders for weeks were given the option of taking excused, unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic. That policy ended Monday.

No employees have tested positive since April 2. Two employees who tested positive have recovered and returned to work, the shipyard said.

Distancing measures remain in place and workers are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings.

Video proceedings: The state supreme court returned to session, in a virtual sense.

Justices heard arguments in five cases Monday via video conferencing because of the coronavirus. The court used videoconferencing for arguments for the first time on April 28 in a lawsuit over a referendum on a utility corridor.

Cases that were argued Monday included appeals by a New York man convicted of felony murder and a Maine man convicted of causing the death of a child.

The acting chief justice was in Bangor while the other justices were in Portland and Augusta. Attorneys spoke from their homes or offices.

Summer camps: A dozen or more summer camps won’t be opening this summer because of the coronavirus, but others are still awaiting further guidance before issuing a decision.

Many of Maine’s more than 270 summer camps remain hopeful that they can reopen.

Mills announced a timeline for reopening parts of the state’s economy, including allowing day camps to open June 1 for Maine children and non-Maine residents who have quarantined for 14 days. Overnight camps can reopen July 1.

The camps contribute about $200 million to the state’s economy each year, Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, told the Portland Press Herald.

Portland headlight: The park that’s home to Maine’s oldest lighthouse reopened Monday to pedestrians and cyclists.

Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, which is home to the Portland Headlight, will have some restrictions. Some playground areas, binoculars and other equipment were marked as off limits.

Face coverings are not required but park visitors are expected to follow social distancing guidelines, staying at least 6 feet apart.

The numbers: One person died and 26 more people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported.

The updated figures bring the total number of deaths to 65 and the total number of confirmed cases to 1,462 in Maine, officials 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.

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