U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2-trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly so they can get out of Washington.
Top aides to President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats announced they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday, after five days of marathon talks.
"We're going to pass this legislation later today," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
The massive bill is expected to include a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.
It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and $150 billion for various healthcare initiatives, including $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems. — Reuters
NH governor tightens limits on gatherings
Gov. Chris Sununu has further restricted the size of public gatherings, this time to 10 under his 16th emergency order in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order, which was issued Monday and goes into effect immediately, applies to “scheduled gatherings of 10” or more. Last week, Sununu restricted gatherings of 50 or more.
A court case filed to challenge the order was struck down.
The order remains effective until April 6.
It applies to “social, spiritual and recreational activities.” It exempts the Legislature and the rest of state government, day-to-day operations of businesses and nonprofits, and gatherings for urgent medical purposes such as blood drives or meetings of officials to discuss efforts to combat COVID-19.
Sununu empowered the state Division of Public Health to enforce the order, and state and local police if necessary.
State recruits NH companies for COVID-19 supplies
The state of New Hampshire is looking for companies and manufacturers that can donate or produce lab, testing or diagnostic supplies; personal protection equipment (PPE); or medical expertise.
At www.nheconomy.com/covid19, companies will find a link to a list of the needed products, and links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for production of the items.
The department of Business and Economic Affairs wants to hear from companies that can produce PPEs, including face shields, N95 masks and other face masks; surgical gowns; ventilators; latex gloves; and swabs.
“I’ve already heard from dozens of companies who are ready to adapt and adjust their operations to provide the protection, equipment and knowledge base to stop the spread of COVID19,” Commissioner Taylor Caswell said in a release.
Manchester announces restrictions at parks, recreational facilities
MANCHESTER — Parks and Recreation officials announced Tuesday that while most parks and athletic fields will remain open across Manchester, playgrounds and hard-surface courts are being closed due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Mark Gomez, chief of Manchester’s Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Division, announced the changes in a memo sent to city aldermen Tuesday.
According to Gomez, parks in general will remain open while playgrounds, the city fit lot, and hard courts — including the soccer mini-pitch and courts for basketball, tennis and pickleball — will be closed.
The Derryfield golf course will be open, weather permitting, while the McIntyre ski area and lodge is closed to large gatherings. Ice arenas and Gill Stadium are closed.
“For both physical and mental health, fresh air and exercise is encouraged at this time,” writes Gomez in an email to city aldermen. “Playgrounds and fit lots would require frequent cleaning before and after uses to prevent transmission of the virus, and they also typically involve activities where people are within 6 feet of another. Hard courts typically involve activities involving multiple people within 6 feet of one another, as well as the frequent sharing of a ball via which transmission of the virus could easily occur.”
Gomez said temporary signs notifying people of the closure and the reasons behind it will be posted at the parks and facilities impacted by the new procedures.
Gomez said open spaces, including athletic fields and trails, will remain open.
“These are good locations for fresh air and exercise while maintaining social distance,” writes Gomez.
Gomez said all scheduled activities at ice arenas in the city have been canceled and that the ice has been removed, ensuring they are available if the space is needed as part of an emergency response.
Emergency grants awarded
The New Hampshire Endowment for Health is awarding emergency grants to support New Hampshire communities through the COVID-19 crisis. A total of $200,000 will be evenly distributed to four New Hampshire United Way agencies: Granite United Way, United Way of Greater Nashua, United Way of the Greater Seacoast, and Monadnock United Way.
Lake Massabesic park open, parking lot closed
Manchester Water Works has closed the parking lot at Massabesic Front Park, the popular lakefront park where people often gather to enjoy a shore of one of the biggest lakes in southern New Hampshire.
Water Works Director Philip Croasdale stressed that the park remains open to the public, as do the trails around the lake and other Water Works properties. Lake Massabesic is the source of drinking water for much of the region.
He said he closed the parking lot Sunday at the request of Auburn Police Chief Raymond Pelton and out of respect for him.
“Were trying to discourage group activity,” Croasdale said.
The park and much of the lake are located within Auburn town boundaries.
An Auburn police officer had driven through the parking lot on Friday and observed several large groups, Croasdale said. Auburn police felt the large crowds threatened officer safety.
Croasdale said people can still use the park. They can either park on Route 28 or the parking lot ball fields, which are located across the highway from the park entrance. Auburn police have said that people parking on the highway won’t be ticketed.
A telephone message left for Pelton was not returned.
Sununu praises NH response ranking
New Hampshire ranks as the fourth most aggressive state when it comes to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of hard-hot states such as New York and Washington, according to a credit reporting company.
The ranking by WalletHub, a personal finance website, gives New Hampshire high marks for its public health labs per capita (11th), its tested cases of COVID-19 per capita (eighth), its population density (fifth), its share of workers with access to paid sick leave (sixth) and its per capita funding toward public health emergency preparedness (10th).
It makes no mention of orders issued by governors to shelter — something a growing number of New Hampshire elected officials are calling for.
Gov. Chris Sununu praised the ranking on Tuesday.
“Today’s study recognizes we are taking unprecedented and proactive steps,” Sununu said in a statement. “Testing is ramping up. And we are working around the clock to slow and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 here in New Hampshire.”
The governor’s office distributed remarks by WalletHub spokesman Jill Gonzalez.
“(New Hampshire) has administered one of the largest number of tests and has a very low share of confirmed cases — just above 3%. In addition, the state has restricted travel, closed schools, restaurants and bars, and has imposed a freeze on evictions, foreclosures and utility bill collections, in an effort to protect the population from getting infected.”
UNH deadline to empty dorms nears
Students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham have until Wednesday to reserve a time to move out of their dorm rooms.
Officials at the college announced last week that in-person classes were suspended for the remainder of the spring semester and that students would transition to remote learning due to concerns about COVID-19.
The move-out process began on Sunday and will end on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
According to information provided by school officials, if students do not sign up to move out in time, the officials will not be able to accommodate the students.
To ensure UNH is following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to social distancing, students will only be allowed into their dorms during their reserved move out time. They are only allowed to bring one person to help them.
UNH officials say they are working on refunding room and board costs on a pro-rata basis for the remainder of the academic year but the deadline for dropping a course is over and students cannot leave this semester’s grades out of their grade point average.
Students who have a demonstrated and compelling need to remain in campus housing will have their case reviewed, but exceptions for the move-out policy will be rare, according to officials.UNH’s Durham campus has 14,284 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in classes this spring, according to its census.
Monadnock Community Hospital sees first confirmed COVID-19 case
Peterborough’s Monadnock Community Hospital says a patient at the facility tested positive for COVID-19, a first for the small hospital.
“We have been preparing for the potential presence of the virus in our broader community and we are confident in our ability to maintain the health and safety of our staff, patients and visitors,” said Cyndee McGuire, president and CEO of MCH.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services contacted the hospital this week to confirm that results.
The hospital declined to give details on the patient, or any further care the patient may or may not be undergoing. The hospital states that all precautions were taken with this patient to protect other patients and staff.
“As a reminder, we all must be vigilant in following appropriate steps to protect ourselves, including physical distancing, and hand hygiene standards,” McGuire said.
People experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus are encouraged to call their primary health provider before they go to the emergency department or a clinic. Health providers can triage over the phone and give guidance for the next appropriate steps, McGuire said.
Advocates call for ICE to release detainees
Two New Hampshire organizations that advocate for immigrant rights have called on federal officials to release immigrants under ICE detention and to halt all non-essential actions in enforcing immigration laws.
Such actions could include Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints, warrantless bus searches, and raids and neighborhood sweeps by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The March 20 letter from the New Hampshire Immigrant Rights Network and the New Hampshire Immigration Solidarity Network said many in the immigrant community will not seek medical help for family members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms if they feel they may face deportation.
“Fear serves to inhibit people from seeking the state and local assistance they may need and to which they are entitled,” reads the letter.
The organizations asked that ICE release all immigrants being held under civil detainment if the immigrants are not facing criminal charges. Most ICE detainees from New Hampshire are held at the Strafford County House of Corrections, approximately 100 to 110, the organizations said.
“It is well-established that medical services within correction institutions are compromised by many factors and are certainly even less ready to handle pandemic conditions than civilian medical facilities,” the letter reads.
The authors noted recent ICE statements saying that it would focus enforcement actions on people who pose public safety risks and are subject to mandatory detention based on criminal activity. The agency has also said it would not engage in activity near hospitals and medical facilities.
Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast postponed
Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast has been postponed.
Valerie Rochon, president of The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, and John Akar, chairman of the Restaurant Week Committee, made the announcement on Tuesday.
“The news reports change hourly, and we recognize that we don’t know when our extraordinary restaurant community will be able to open its doors again. But we know they will, and we can’t wait for that to happen,” Rochon and Akar wrote in a statement.
Rochon and Akar asked people to purchase gift certificates, order take out and support local businesses as well as cultural attractions.
Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast is a biannual event that draws up to 75,000 diners over the course of 10 days. This past fall, 46 local establishments participated.
This spring’s event was originally planned for April 16-25. There is no word yet on when it might take place.
Information from Union Leader staff writers Kevin Landrigan, Paul Feely and Mark Hayward and correspondents Kimberley Haas and Damien Fisher was used in this report.