CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu announced five new drive-in coronavirus test sites going in this week in Tamworth, Lancaster, Claremont, Plymouth and Rochester — mostly at National Guard bases — and a mobile unit in addition to existing facilities at 11 ConvenientMD sites. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms can now be tested, he said, making him hopeful “we can have the data we need to move forward” to reopen portions of the state and its economy.
It is great news, said Lori Shibinette, state commissioner of Health and Human Services, who also announced three new outbreaks at extended-care facilities: at Birch Hill in Manchester, where seven residents and four staff tested positive for COVID-19; at Crestwood Center in Milford, where 14 residents and four staffers tested positive; and at Salem Haven in Salem, where nine residents and two staff members tested positive.
Since the outbreak of the highly transmittable virus in early March, primary-care providers could not supply tests to everyone who called them because of a lack of supplies and equipment.
About two weeks ago, the state was testing several hundred people a day, but it jumped last week to 450 a day, said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist. The state can now test 1,000 people a day, and Sununu said he would continue to “move the goalpost” to 1,500 a day and further to ensure testing can help slow community spread. The state reported no new deaths on Monday, but there were new cases in the double digits.
Sununu called it “incredibly irresponsible” of people to tell him to “just open things up.”
He said the state will gather more data and take a few extra days to “get it right off the bat. Yes, we are not rushing things,” noting that neighboring Massachusetts, with one of the worst outbreaks in the country with almost 50,000 cases, is at our border.
Sununu said New Hampshire is essentially a suburb of Boston and that if the state hadn’t taken quick action to go to distance learning and stay-at-home orders, it could have been far worse than where we are with the statistics New Hampshire has.
The governor said to open up New Hampshire with its tourism, hotels, attraction and restaurants is to invite disaster from Massachusetts and “enticing them” could create a new COVID-19 surge here.
“The economic impact of this crisis is not going to go away,” Sununu said.
Hotels, restaurants, and travel and tourism are the hardest to open, he conceded, but other areas of the economy, such as some hospital procedures and some retail might be easier to return. Sununu said the stay-at-home order is not likely to be lifted May 4, but he said he would likely have more information to impart later this week due to input from advisory committees, which may allow for some loosening of the existing provisions.
The fact that the state has been able to ramp up testing is largely due to commercial testing facilities that have added capacity, Sununu said.
Sununu said there needs to be at least 14 days of trending good news to start to consider lifting some of the executive orders limiting people’s work, travel and business.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to be tested near their home,” Sununu said, in announcing the five new test sites.
He said people will still require a provider referral but the sites will be open eight hours a day with help from the National Guard, many of whom are emergency medical technicians.
People will be able to stay in their cars to get tested and contact tracing information will be taken at these sites, which could be open by Wednesday with the help of the National Guard, Sununu said.
Shibinette announced there were 75 new COVID-19 cases Monday with 1,938 people total testing positive in the state. The state has seen 60 deaths due to the virus, but no new deaths were reported on Monday.