Plans underway to find auxiliary health facilities across state

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Stanley Spirou Field House on the campus of Southern NH University is prepping to become an auxiliary health care facility. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

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MANCHESTER, NH — With New Hampshire recording its first death from COVID-19, and confirmed cases topping 100, plans are underway to find auxiliary health facilities across the state in preparation for a medical surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce today the first COVID-19-related death in New Hampshire,” Gov. Chris Sununu said during an early afternoon news conference Monday.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said the patient who died over the weekend was a man from Hillsborough County over the age of 60 who had “multiple underlying chronic health conditions.”  Southern New Hampshire University is preparing the Stanley Spirou gymnasium as an auxiliary health facility, according to a college spokesman.

In a 72-hour period of time, the  Stanley Spirou gymnasium at Southern New Hampshire University was converted to an auxiliary health facility, according to spokesman Lauren Keane.

She said the gym will hold up to 250 patients.

She said the Manchester Health Department played a major role in the project and that it took place with the cooperation of Mayor Joyce Craig, fire and police departments, Catholic Medical Center, Elliot Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the U.S. Veterans Administration, the state Departments of Health and Humans Services and National Guard.

She said preparing the site is part of an existing emergency plan with the city.

SNHU ready for whatever happens next. Photo/SNHU President and CEO Paul LaBlanc via Twitter

Keene State College also reportedly is working to provide space for care on its campus. Sununu, at the news conference, said there will be seven “flex” sites across the state to increase the number of hospital beds in the event of a patient surge that could overwhelm hospitals.  He said hotels have offered their facilities as well, although he did not identify them.

He said testing will triple soon with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC)  operating satellite locations. Because of the increased testing, the number of confirmed cases will increase.

“The numbers are going to rise drastically,” he said.  “It can be a scary thing.”

On Sunday, confirmed cases numbered 78.  On Monday, the number climbed to 101, an increase of 23 in a day.  Sununu did not issue a “shelter-in-place” order, as was done in Massachusetts, but said gatherings should be limited to 10. 

DHMC announced Monday its laboratory is now able to test for the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

The testing became available on Wednesday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock said, but implementing it required testing and validations of new protocols set by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control.

Because of the shortage of supplies and equipment, the medical provider is reserving the tests for hospital patients, health care workers and first responders. It expects that in a week to 10 days the turnaround time for the test will be 24 hours once the testing if fully operational.

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