14,000 people join call with NH Congressional delegates for Q&A about COVID-19

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CONCORD, NH – As the state announced 29 new cases of COVID-19 totaling 137 Wednesday evening, residents joined a teleconference town hall with state health-care leaders and Congressmen Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas.

More than 14,000 New Hampshire residents joined the call where they received an update on legislation to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 and information about resources to access small business loans, unemployment insurance, and more.

This was the third teletown meeting the two Democrats have held since the global pandemic struck the state, beginning in early March with the state’s first case.

One person has died of the virus in the state while 650 are being monitored for symptoms.

Many asking questions wanted to be sure that the stimulus efforts making their way through Washington are focused on the small businesses and individuals not Wall Street bailouts.

Kuster and Pappas said past experiences are not the same and this effort is directed toward workers and “those who really need the help.”

Liz Morris, director of the Division of Public Health Services for the state and Dr. Jonathan Ballard, chief medical director of the New Hampshire Division of Health and Human Services, joined on the call.

Just as they were speaking the state issued the daily report showing that six of the new cases are now hospitalized for a total of 19. Thirteen of the new cases have no identified risk factors. Although most cases are adults one is under 18, the state said.

Kuster said there are key steps being taken to protect our communities from illness and protecting the economy.

“The consequences of inaction could be dire,” Kuster said from her home in Hopkinton.

She said she was pleased the Trump Administration and the Senate agreed on Wednesday to a $2 trillion stimulus package focused on helping individuals, not big business and she looked forward to seeing it pass the House in a matter of days.

This would put in the hands of most adults $1,200, and would expand unemployment while providing a small business rescue plan.

“Our rural communities offer unique challenges,” Kuster said.

She said she and Pappas would continue advocacy for specific policies to help support rural communities and healthcare providers.

During last week’s session, Congress passed paid emergency leave, free virus testing, and measures to bolster food security, the congressmen said.

Pappas, speaking from his home in Manchester, thanked the thousands on the call noting “these calls are the best ways we have come up with to connect.”

He called it a “frightening time we are all living through.”

Today’s bill, he said, is geared to keeping families and medical institutions afloat. He said the “big $2 trillion” bill recognizes that the coronavirus has “brought us to an economic standstill.”

“We can’t restart our economy if we don’t beat this virus first,” Pappas said.

Morris said that in New Hampshire “we are prioritizing testing.”

She said 80 percent will have mild symptoms and can have their virus managed at home.

Dr. Ballard said we are still working to contain the spread of the disease and relieve the strain it has had on the health-care system.

Caller Questions

John in Nashua asked about aid to small businesses. He employs 75 people and wanted to know more about the targeted aid.

Pappas said this has been top of mind as they look for legislative remedies. The measures going forward are expanding loans which are at low or 0 percent interest, and there are some products available now.

In addition, the bipartisan deal passed in the Senate puts $350 billion through the Small Business Administration that would give benefits to those who maintain payrolls at this troubled time.

A lot of lenders in the state are looking to work with local businesses so he suggested businesses reach out to their lenders.

Kuster added that terms are likely to get better for more funding to businesses and there will be a forbearance for repayment, provided businesses keep employees on the payroll for a year.

She said it is important to note that this will cover not-for-profit organizations as well.

She urged those who have lost employment to apply immediately for unemployment insurance through the state Department of Employment Security.

Craig in Derry asked about self-quarantine and was concerned about the “snowbirds from Florida” coming home.

Should they be quarantined?

Yes. The answer was from Dr. Ballard. For 14 days.

Kuster said that includes those coming into New Hampshire to second homes, particularly in the lakes and mountains.

“They own the homes and pay taxes. I don’t think we can stop them from coming,” Kuster said, but she implored them to self-quarantine.

“We need to educate them that these are small communities with often rural hospitals who will struggle to meet demands of their own communities.”

Ballard agreed.

Bruce in Grafton was wondering about the timeline for symptoms. How long would it be before you have symptoms appears?

Dr. Ballard said the “incubation period,” internationally has a range of 2 to 14 days. Fever, cough, shortness of breath are the most primary symptoms. On average, he said it is about five days.

Kyle, online, asked who can we trust to provide information?
Pappas said professionals on the call were good examples as is Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist.

Maureen in Dublin wanted to know what guarantees there are that the $2 trillion bill will not go to Wall Street?

Kuster said she and Pappas and the state delegation have been focused on the “families first approach” with oversight and “we were successful with that.”

Direct payment is focused on those who earn less than $75,000. There is also money for health-care providers. The small business rescue plan is focused on the small community operations to keep their workers on the payroll.

Questions were asked about the Defense Production Act that can be triggered in a non-war emergency.

Kuster said this act can allow companies to convert their operations to help. So far, the president has been very limited in his use of the act and she said both she and Pappas would support more use.

Kuster said New Hampshire has received the second shipment of supplies from the federal stockpile of personal protective equipment.

Masks, gloves, eye protection, and gowns have just been received and are being distributed to care providers based on their requests.

Ballard said the state is actively working with all the healthcare entities to include flow across the state and there will be additional needs.

Deborah, reaching out from online, asked how have the hospitals prepared and which are most in need of staff and supplies.

Ballard said there is a hospital surge plan created after Sept. 9, 2001, which works across the state. The hospitals have all activated their plans, he said.

Kuster said the most important contribution everyone can make is to stay at home.

“Everyone needs to practice our social distancing six feet apart or more and support each other,” Kuster said. “Be kind to each other … if we all take these steps together we will flatten the curve. We will ensure that there is not a tsunami of sickness.”