State Sen. Jon Morgan, the head of Exeter Hospital, and several other community leaders in Exeter are urging New Hampshire to follow other states that have issued shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In a letter sent Friday, the group called on N.H. Health and Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette to recommend to Gov. Chris Sununu that he implement an immediate statewide emergency order to stop all non-essential activity outside the home.
“We believe the current inability to initiate or maintain broad-based COVID-19 testing across the general community without any currently viable commercial option negates our ability to understand or respond effectively or efficiently to the spread or prevalence of the virus. Hospitals, health care providers, and emergency responders across the state are currently facing dwindling supplies of the personal protective equipment needed to meet the growing future demand and we need significant help from both the federal and state governments to get us the supplies we need to safely care for our patients and the community,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by Morgan, D-Brentwood; Kevin Callahan, president and chief executive officer of Exeter Hospital’s parent, Exeter Health Resources; Jennifer Wheeler, president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce; Justine Vogel, the chief executive officer of RiverWoods retirement community; David Ryan, superintendent for School Administrative Unit 16; William Rawson, principal of Phillips Exeter Academy; Niko Papakonstantis, chairman of Exeter’s select board; Molly Cowan, the board’s vice chairwoman; and Exeter Town Manager Russ Dean.
They maintain that a shelter-in-place order is the only way to decrease transmission of the virus in New Hampshire communities “while the prevalence and spread of coronavirus remain undetermined.”
Essential activities would be exempt. The letter said those activities that would still be allowed would include shopping at grocery stores and pharmacies, home needs, emergency medical needs, banking and “isolated” exercise.
Sununu insisted Friday that he didn’t think a shelter-in-place order was necessary at this time given other steps the state has taken to encourage social distancing and considered it a last resort.
But Morgan and other local leaders argue that with the lack of testing capacity a shelter in place order is needed, saying that “without immediate intervention, our community and all of N.H. could find itself with a significantly decreased ability to provide critical, life-saving services.”
Because of the shortage of testing supplies, the state issued new guidelines Friday that recommend tests be given only to health care workers and first responders with symptoms and those being hospitalized for respiratory illness and fever.