CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Hospital-based coronavirus testing sites around the state could get machines that deliver rapid results by October under a plan approved by a legislative advisory board Wednesday.
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, had proposed acquiring the rapid testing machines for school districts given growing concerns about the ability to test students and teachers as schools reopen. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette instead suggested the machines be purchased for the roughly two dozen community testing centers already set up, mostly in hospitals.
That would ensure that primary care doctors are part of the process, she said, and would spare schools from the extra expense of obtaining the necessary lab certifications and acquiring required protective equipment.
“It would make more sense and be more prudent to put them in the community testing centers. We’ve provided funding to the community testing centers in the hospitals to do the set up,” she told lawmakers advising the Governor’s Office of Emergency Relief and Recovery. “So I think we should take full advantage of those testing centers.”
The group voted unanimously to recommend the state use some of its remaining $1.25 billion in federal virus relief aid to purchase 25 machines. So far, the state has allocated all bout $230 million of the money, with plans to hold onto about $200 million until October in case there is a surge in COVID-19 cases or other urgent needs crop up.
The committee also heard Wednesday from the New Hampshire School Nurses’ Association and officials with the state’s largest teachers’ union. Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, said the lack of minimum standards set by the state coupled with a lack of adequate funding has complicated school reopening decisions at the local level. The state has distributed $34 million in federal funding to school districts, but she pressed for more to cover the cost of rapid testing, personal protective equipment, ventilation system upgrades and substitute teachers and staff.
Those last two concerns are significant, said Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. Properly addressing heating, air conditioning and ventilation issues would cost tens of thousands of dollars statewide, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, he said. Meanwhile, districts also are increasing pay for substitute teachers and other staff members in anticipation that many will end up in quarantine.
“There already was a significant shortage of subs for all positions — teachers, nurses, para-educators, food service, bus drivers. This current crisis has just made that worse,” he said. “There are not enough trees in the state to shake to get subs in the building.”
Districts are increasing the pay for subs and are trying to hire permanent subs as a possible solution, but those items haven’t been budgeted for and there’s no guarantee there will be enough subs for classrooms,” he said.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
At least six New Hampshire residents are among the more than 100 COVID-19 cases associated with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, state health officials said Wednesday.
Public health departments in multiple states are trying to measure how much the coronavirus spread during the 10-day rally before participants traveled home to nearly every state.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all New Hampshire residents who traveled to Sturgis get tested. The state's travel guidance requires anyone who traveled outside New England to quarantine for 14 days.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire is in the midst of its own motorcycle rally. The nine-day event ends Sunday in Laconia.
As of Wednesday, 7,159 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of eight from the previous day. The number of deaths increased by one to 430. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks from 29 new cases per day on Aug. 11 to 19 new cases per day on Aug. 25.
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.