By PAULA TRACY
and CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill into law Tuesday that expands and permanently ensures that health-care providers can bill insurance companies for visits by phone and internet at the same rate they would if the patient came to their office.
Telemedicine, as it is known, has become very useful in the pandemic the past four months, Sununu said at his regular news conference on Tuesday.
He also said expect it to take longer to get a COVID-19 test result than it has in the past. State health officials said what has been an average of a three-day wait for testing will now take about seven days due in part to a national surge in testing requests.
Sununu said he thinks the amount of time will continue to be longer than it has in the past as people prepare to go back to schools this fall.
Lori Shibinette, commissioner for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said just a few weeks ago, it took about three days to get results and now the wait is between six and seven days.
Shibinette said the state is looking to validate “pool testing” or doing a batch of tests together in an effort to get more testing done quickly and add capacity to the state’s testing system. She said the state lab has the capacity to test about 300 people daily but uses third party vendors to handle the bulk of public testing.
The state, on average has about 1,800 tests done per day. The state lab has a turnaround time of 1.6 days, she said.
“My sense is there will be continued high demand because of schools reopening,” Sununu said.
Shibinette said long-term care facilities are tested every five to seven days. These are the locations where the most fatalities have been encountered in the state, with COVID-19 now having claimed the lives of 400 people in New Hampshire.
On Tuesday, the state reported two new deaths and 16 new cases. Roughly 80 percent of those 400 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.
Evergreen Place in Manchester, an assisted living facility, has joined a list of four facilities that have suffered an outbreak of three or more cases. The state announced that 17 residents there tested positive and three staff for a total of 20.
One thing that might help is that some institutions, such as the University of New Hampshire, are trying to get their own devices to do their own testing to help manage test turnaround time.
Sununu announced an elevated messaging campaign to wear a mask and act responsibility, Tuesday related to the virus with a campaign on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
He also announced that on Tuesday, he and inventor Dean Kamen welcomed another flight full of personal protective equipment to the state.
“We do have more flights coming in. We have done very well with PPE here,” Sununu said. “We have been very good about building up our stockpiles.”
The state is acting as a pass-through for the materials with federal funds paying for the materials which are sold at cost in many cases.
Dr. Ben Chan, the state’s epidemiologist, said the state continues to have good numbers on COVID-19 despite the fact that much of the country is facing a surge.
Now, there are more than 14.7 million cases of the virus globally, 3.8 million in the U.S. and 140,000 citizens have died and numbers continue to rise.
The state had 6,262 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, including four new hospitalizations for a total of 677 people.
The two new deaths, both associated with residents of long-term care facilities, sent the state total to 400 people.
Shibinette said in round numbers the state has 225 long-term care facilities of which 75 are nursing homes. The remainder are assisted living facilities.
While the state does announce outbreaks in those facilities of COVID-19, they do not have a list of outbreaks outside of those facilities.
She said over the course of the virus there have been a handful of businesses or other settings, but the state does not disclose those unless there is a public interaction with that location, “if there is a community risk.”