CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A more infectious coronavirus variant has been detected in a New Hampshire resident for the first time, state health officials said Friday.
An adult from Hillsborough County tested positive for the variant first found in the United Kingdom. The person had close contact with someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 after international travel, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Close household contacts were identified via contact tracing, and those involved have followed isolation, quarantine and testing guidance. Officials said they do not believe the case poses a risk to the community.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said the variant’s presence in New Hampshire is not surprising.
In other coronavirus developments:
The 400-member New Hampshire House is heading back inside.
In the calendar published Friday, House Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, said the House will meet Feb. 24 and 25 at a sports complex in Bedford. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers have met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on a UNH athletic field, and last month from their cars in a parking lot.
Packard said the NH Sportsplex facility includes more than 50,000 square feet of floor space, more than double the usable area at the UNH arena. His office is working with health and safety officials "to ensure a risk-mitigated and secure environment for all members and staff in attendance,” he said.
Former House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, died of COVID-19 a week after being sworn in at the outdoor session in December. Democrats have pushed for remote sessions, but Republican House leaders have said is not possible because no rules exist to allow it, while blocking attempts to create such rules.
“We continue to research if a reasonable remote solution exists that will not compromise the operation of the 400 member House of Representatives,” Packard said. “A solution that would meet our unique needs has not been identified.”
House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing sent a letter to Packard on Monday asking him to accommodate lawmakers who want to participate remotely, particularly those with significant medical conditions.
In a response Friday evening, Packard said that remote participation may eventually be possible for members with specific health issues, but it would be impractical to allow remote participation for all who request it.
“States who have successfully done so have memberships of less than half of ours, and most have provided state issued equipment to those members to facilitate it,” he wrote. “Deployment of equipment, testing, training of members, technical support protocols, and backend software development would all be tremendously time consuming and costly.”
Cushing said Democrats will consult their attorney about how to proceed.
“It’s unfortunate in the midst of a pandemic, when over 1,100 New Hampshire citizens have lost their lives, including our former speaker, that Speaker Packard remains unwilling to provide an option for legislators to participate in sessions remotely,” he said in an interview.
“We’re going to be forced into a position of having people unnecessarily jeopardize their lives in order to fulfill their responsibilities as lawmakers," Cushing said. “This is not about personality. It's not about politics. It's about public health.”
Classes have moved online and students face tighter restrictions after a “dramatic and sustained” rise in the number of COVID-19 cases at the University of New Hampshire.
Spring semester classes began Feb. 1. As of Thursday night, there were 265 active cases among students and four among faculty and staff.
The university halted a pilot program to begin allowing fans to return to athletic events, and no spectators were to be allowed at a men's hockey game Friday night. Social gatherings are limited to no more than six people, and students can not visit other residence halls or apartment buildings.
HIRING FREEZE LIFTED
Gov. Chris Sununu has rescinded the state hiring freeze he enacted early on during the pandemic.
The order issued in April required any vacant positions remain vacant, with some exceptions. The intent was to save money at a time when state officials expected a revenue shortfall of up to $350 million because of the pandemic, but that estimate has since shrunk to less than $50 million.
“The lifting of this hiring freeze is yet another sign that our management paid off and our economy is on its way to returning to the historic highs of before this pandemic,” Sununu said.