0530 Virus Outbreak New Hampshire

A heart and the words “Hang in There” adorn the wall of an alleyway, sharing an inspirational message, outside the Cravings Cafe and Gift Shop in Nashua, N.H., Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Many of the adults with disabilities that work at the cafe and gift shop have not been able to go to their usual jobs at the shop due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:

New Hampshire

Gov. Chris Sununu extended New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks, while announcing the limited reopening of hotels, summer camps and houses of worship.

The stay-at-home order had been due to expire on Sunday but instead was extended until June 15.

“Hopefully then we can take that next step into a different look and get our summer going as folks would like to see the summer going,” Sununu said. “There’s still going to be a lot of restrictions in place. We’re never going to really be at the point where we’re 100 percent open in just a couple of weeks. That’s likely not going to happen.”

Churches and other houses of worship, which had been limited by the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, can resume larger services immediately at 40% of their building capacity, with families spread six feet apart from each other. Susan Hawkins, a funeral director, said the reopening of churches is especially important to grieving families who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19.

“There are so many people who are waiting for funerals, and it’s been so difficult,” she told the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force earlier Friday. “We do need to move forward and take the lessons that have been learned and have everyone keep safe, but continue to live our lives again.”

Hotels, inns and other lodging properties have been closed since April 6 except for essential workers and vulnerable populations. Those with fewer than 20 rooms will be allowed to reopen June 5 at full capacity, as will motels, cabins and other properties where guests have separate entrances to their rooms. Larger properties with interior hallways will be limited to 50% capacity. In all cases, only guests from New Hampshire will be allowed, unless they have quarantined in their home states for 14 days before arriving.

The owner of one cabin rental business told the task force she’s heard from potential guests who’ve been coming to New Hampshire to hike, are visiting restaurants and gas stations and then sleeping in their cars.

“I know what the governor’s trying to do and not let an overflow of people come into the state of New Hampshire, but they’re already here,” she said. “We need to open up lodging not only to get the economy going so we don’t lose these small businesses, but also for the safety of the people that are going to come up here anyways.”

Summer day camps will be allowed to open June 22, with rules that call for staggered drop-off and pick-up times, limited interaction with parents, keeping campers outside as much as possible, and separating children into small groups that would remain together throughout the day. Sununu said overnight camps will be allowed to reopen June 28, but the specific rules won’t be released until next week.

The numbers: As of Friday, 4,492 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 107 from the previous day. Six new deaths were announced — all involving residents of long-term care facilities — bringing the total to 238.

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.

Testing: New Hampshire is making testing for the coronavirus available to anyone in the state without restrictions.

The state in the last few weeks has expanded both testing locations and eligibility, making tests available for example to those with only mild symptoms or to health care workers, people over 60 or those with underlying health conditions regardless of symptoms.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said Friday that anyone who wants to get tested now can do so at nine locations around the state.

Hospital investigations: Two Manchester hospitals are investigating clusters of patients and staff who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Two asymptomatic patients from the same unit at Catholic Medical Center were discovered to be positive after being tested for placement at long-term care facilities. A staff member on that unit also tested positive, hospital officials said. Catholic Medical Center tested all patients on that unit and more than 600 employees between May 20 and May 26. Seven patients and staff came back positive so far.

At Elliot Hospital, five patients on the geriatric psychiatric unit have tested positive. The hospital is currently testing the remaining patients and all staff on the unit.

Both hospitals are conducting contact tracing to determine the source and scope of exposure, which appears to have occurred via asymptomatic spread in both cases.

Vermont

Hair stylists and barbers are back in business Friday as part of the latest round of business reopenings in Vermont from COVID-19 shutdowns.

The hair professionals must follow a number of restrictions. Customers also must book appointments in advance and remain at a safe distance from other customers.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that he is increasing the size of allowable gatherings from 10 to 25, guidelines for the reopening of gymnasiums, cleaning services and museums.

Starting Monday, massage therapists, indoor gymnasiums, cleaning services and some other close contact businesses will be able to resume limited operations.

The state is also going to allow the reopening of overnight camps for out-of-staters.

“It’s a pilot project, if you will, because taking this step within this very controlled environment will give us some insight into how we manage out-of-state tourists as we move to easing restrictions such as quarantine requirements,” Scott said during his regular COVID-19 briefing.

The guidelines for the overnight summer camps say they can operate at 75% of capacity.

There are quarantine requirements, which can be done before traveling to Vermont or at the camps. There are also requirements for parents or others who would be bringing the campers to Vermont.

While Vermont is seeing a small growth rate in new cases, the virus hotspots of Boston and New York are only several hours drive from the state.

Scott said he hoped to be able to encourage out-of-state visitors to come to Vermont again soon.

“At this point in time its just not safe to do so,” Scott said. “So, again, the strategy that we’ve been using appears to be working and I know it’s frustrating for some, but if you look at the bigger picture, and you have to look at the regional picture, you can see that one false step, opening up too quick will set ourselves back a month.”’

Cluster: Health Commissioner Dr. Levine said officials were monitoring what he described as a small cluster of cases in Winooski. Citing privacy concerns, he wouldn’t provide detail about how many cases had been found, or who was infected.

Levine said the department’s staff was working with community organizations and employers to provide education, followup, support and testing as needed.

The numbers: On Friday, the Vermont Health Department reported one additional positive test for the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the total to 975. The number of deaths is holding steady at 55.

After two days of reporting no patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the state reported Friday one person was hospitalized with the disease. The number of patients under investigation for COVID-19 dropped by four, to 13.

Maine

Seven state employees who showed symptoms of COVID-19, leading to a two-day closure of the emergency operations center where they work, tested negative, officials said Friday.

The employees worked out of the Maine Emergency Management Agency’s operations center in Augusta. Three were agency employees, while two worked for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and two were National Guard members.

Parts of the building will be deep cleaned, officials said. State epidemiologists are also investigating what led to the symptoms reported by the employees, who first called in sick Thursday.

The state responded to the callouts by switching the operations center to mostly virtual. No staffers worked from there Friday, state officials said.

The state CDC said in a statement Friday that measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus should be taken “regardless of the setting.” The state had yet to decide whether the facility would remain virtual next week.

The numbers: Maine has had more than 2,200 cases of the virus and 85 deaths through Friday. The state CDC reported 37 new cases and an additional death Friday.

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.

DOJ wants camps open: The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it has filed court papers in support of campground operators who believe a state quarantine order is unconstitutional. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has issued an order that out-of-state visitors must quarantine for 14 days.

The campgrounds sued in federal court because they believe the rule treats Maine residents more favorably than out-of-state residents, and that is hurting them economically.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said state governments “cannot limit the right of out-of-state Americans to travel to their state unless doing so is substantially related to protecting the public safety.” The DOJ said it believes the state could use less restrictive means to reach that goal.

Mills said the quarantine is “a proven tool to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.” She said the DOJ is “making a concerted effort to undermine the health of the people of Maine.”

Tribal health: An agency that provides health care and other services to Native American groups in Maine is getting $300,000 from the federal government for pandemic response.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving the money to Wabanaki Health and Wellness. The money is intended to “prepare, prevent and respond to COVID-19 in rural tribal communities in Maine,” the federal agency said in a statement.

The grant is part of $15 million in federal money that has been awarded to more than 50 tribes, tribal organizations, urban health organizations and other tribal health service providers in 20 states, the agency said.

Wabanaki Health and Wellness is headquartered in Bangor and describes itself as “a not-for-profit organization for tribally-enrolled Native Americans, serving the Penobscot, Washington and Aroostook counties of Maine.”

Reopening, Phase 2: The second phase of the state’s reopening plan is set to begin Monday. That phase allows for more restaurants to reopen, though restaurants in southern Maine and Androscoggin County will still be restricted from allowing dine-in customers.

More beaches and state parks are also scheduled to be able to reopen Monday. Mills signed an executive order on Friday that allows for a continued easing of restrictions applied earlier in the pandemic.

BMV reopening: The Bureau of Motor Vehicles will also reopen, by appointment only, starting Monday, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said.

Twelve of the bureau’s 13 offices and its central office in Augusta will be open to process transactions by phone or in-person appointment only, he said.

The Springvale office will be closed until further notice, Dunlap said.

Massachusetts

The overall number of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic climbed to 6,640 on Thursday as another 93 deaths were reported.

The number of individuals in Massachusetts diagnosed with confirmed cases of COVID-19 closed in on 95,000 with 675 new cases reported.

The number of people currently hospitalized with the disease stood at about 2,112, down from about 2,800 two weeks ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care stood at 529 — down from 781 two weeks ago.

Nearly 62% of those overall deaths — 4,123 — were reported at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Unemployment claims: There were more than 147,000 claims for pandemic unemployment assistance last week, bringing the total number of people who have filed for help since the start of the pandemic to nearly 519,000, the state reported Thursday.

Besides the pandemic unemployment claims, 37,600 people filed an initial claim for standard unemployment insurance last week, a slight decline of about 500 from the week before, according to the state.

Since March 15, more than 897,000 initial claims have been filed for standard unemployment insurance.

Since March, customer service staff at the department has grown from about 50 employees to over 1,900.

COVID-19 reporting bill: A bill that would increase the amount of statewide, publicly available data related to the coronavirus pandemic won final approval from Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday.

Under the bill, the Department of Public Health would be required to compile, collect and issue daily online reports on the number of people tested for COVID-19, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths along with the gender, race, ethnicity, primary residence, occupation, disability, age and primary language of each case.

The DPH already releases daily reports that include much of that information.

The legislation also requires that daily reports include demographic information from municipalities and counties with more than 25 positive cases, elder care facilities, as well as state and county correctional facilities.

It would also create a task force to study the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and make policy recommendations.

The bill now heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

Boston Pride goes viral: Boston Pride has scheduled a series of virtual events next month to celebrate the city’s LGBTQ community while protecting people during the)pandemic and the resulting ban on large gatherings.

The month of virtual events begins June 5 with the traditional raising of the rainbow pride flag by the city.

Events range from panel discussions, to cooking classes, to dance lessons. A full list is posted at bostonpride.org.

Boston Pride, marking its 50th anniversary this year, encourages everyone to show their pride by decorating their windows, doors, porches, yards, cars and even their pets for pride weekend, June 12-14, and post the results to social media with the hashtag #wickedproud.

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