25 hotels offer safe quarantine for COVID-19 patients

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Kuster
Rep. Annie Kuster

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CONCORD, NH– There are 25 hotels across the state offering safe quarantine sites for people sickened by the COVID-19 virus who cannot go home, providing a resource to protect others from becoming sick.

This was some of the new information thousands of callers who joined a weekly congressional telephone town hall heard Wednesday night.

It was again hosted U.S. Congresswoman Annie McLane Kuster of Hopkinton and U.S. Congressman Chris Pappas of Manchester, both Democrats.

David J. Mikolaities, adjutant general of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, said the hotels are working with them across the state to provide a safe place for sick individuals.

Also speaking on the call was Dr. Antonia L. Altomare, who works on Infectious Disease and International Health at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

The four took questions for an hour during the telephone town hall.

Kuster said so far there have been 7,113 small business loans in New Hampshire approved totaling $1.5 billion in financing due to the forced shut down of businesses caused by the pandemic, which has claimed 32 lives so far in New Hampshire and sickened 1,139 residents.

“We will be able to reopen our economy only after we have addressed COVID-19,” Kuster said and have come up with ways to test others who may have developed antibodies and are no longer susceptible.
Pappas said this is a “deeply concerning time” but the state, for now, is faring better than many states due to “early efforts encouraged toward social distancing,” and  sacrifices people are making to stay home, to which he said, “thank you.”

The two helped pass major legislation to help “but we know that is a work in progress,” and more efforts are likely necessary, Pappas said.

“There is much more we have to do to support our main street economy,” said Pappas. “We are truly all in this together.”

Mikolaities noted that 75 percent of the National Guard is part-time and they have been working around the clock in the state to do many different things that they were never trained to do, including staffing phone lines.

He said there are over 190 soldiers and airmen activated in New Hampshire, the most since Sept. 11, 2011 when the country was under a terrorist attack.

Since March 14, the day after Gov. Chris Sununu issued the state of emergency, the guard began working in Manchester on drive-through COVID-19 testing in the parking lot of the Manchester Armory.

They worked in support of the state emergency operations center in Concord and organized alternative surge care sites in 15 locations across the state – all within 14 days, creating 1,600 beds if needed for those who are sickened. So far, those sites have not been needed.

Mikolaities said the guard has brought logistics, expertise, and plans together to allow for the creation of 25 hotel quarantine sites across the state. He noted that they also have cyber professionals supporting the state.

And the guard is working to house and distribute critical supplies for personal protective equipment, some of which was just received from China and delivered in a FedEx express shipment Sunday to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.”

“It’s a pretty robust operation,” he said.

Finally, the guard has also helped to support the state’s unemployment call center which has been besieged by calls from thousands of newly unemployed.

Together with workers from the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security, they are managing over 5,000 calls a day, he said.
The guard is also helping to augment the New Hampshire food bank to sort and package food and distribute it to over 200 locations. One in nine residents suffer from food insecurity, he observed.

“They are our 603 hometown heroes,” he said of guardsmen. “We are proud to be part of the response.”

Dr. Altomare said she thinks one of the reasons the state is in such comparatively good shape is “because of people’s cooperation. I am amazed at how people come together in a crisis.”

And this is a crisis, she said, noting over 2 million cases worldwide of COVID-19, 133,000 deaths with the U.S. suffering 30 percent of the deaths.
She said 45 percent of those cases are in New York and New Jersey combined.

New Hampshire has made a tremendous impact on reducing the spread “largely due to you and the mitigation strategies of stay at home.” She said serologic testing will play a key role in determining how and when things get back to normal but to relax stay-at-home orders now would be counterproductive.

Callers

The telephone town hall included a half-hour of public questions.
Bruce asked how long does a germ stay on cotton?
Altomare said no one knows for sure. It can last from hours to a day. She advised people to wash their clothes and cloth face masks after going out in public and to do it daily and to be sure to continue to wash hands.

Petta asked if it is true that states are having to bid against each other for basic medical supplies.
Kuster answered that, regretfully yes. She attributed that to a lack of coordination at the federal level.

Brenda thanked the speakers and asked if the emotional well-being of frontline workers would be addressed.
The doctor said that the medical community is very attuned to that and DHMC has a very good employee assistance program.

She said the fact that the hospital had enough PPE has been a great relief and no employee has been sickened if wearing that equipment.

Pat asked if anyone is checking on the homeless.
Pappas said investing in programs that support the issue of homelessness and support from law enforcement who have been looking out for these folks is an ongoing concern.

Scott asked when can he get back to work.
“I am missing my co-workers,” he said emotionally.

Kuster said we are all feeling the same way.
“I think what we need to do is do it in a way that is very, very safe,” for everyone, she said.

Ray thanked the panel for their expertise and mentioned concern for the viability of the U.S. Postal Service.

Pappas said as we spend more time at home these days we notice those who are working for us and it is important to heed the calls that the postal service needs more funding.

“The president was not willing to entertain more funding for them… I think this was a mistake,” Pappas said.

He said privatization would not work well because of the rural aspect of so much of the country.
Kuster agreed with Pappas and noted so many who get medications, food and supplies by mail and important communication from families, particularly in rural areas.

“I want to thank the front-line postal workers who are delivering our mail,” she said. “I will continue to fight for the postal service.”

Jen asked how many more months is it going to be?
Kuster said this is a decision that will be made by Sununu, who has been in close contact with other states in the region.

She said it is likely that it will take time because of the contagious nature of the virus.
“It can flare up again,” Kuster said.

Both members of Congress urged people to contact their offices if they need help with services and promised another call next week where more questions can be answered.
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About this Author

Paula Tracy

Veteran reporter Paula Tracy writes for InDepthNH.org