Sununu limits gatherings to 10 as NH reports first death from among 101 COVID-19 cases

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State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan is pictured at Monday’s news onference in Concord with Gov. Chris Sununu and other officials behind him. Screenshot/WMUR

CONCORD, NH – Gov. Chris Sununu announced the state’s first death from COVID-19, an overnight surge of 23 positive tests bringing the total to 101 and a new limit on gatherings to 10 people.

During an information-packed news conference on Monday, Sununu also spoke about plans underway to potentially increase the number of hospital beds in case of a patient surge to include Southern New Hampshire University and a number of satellite sites. Hotels have offered their space as well, he said, providing few details as the planning continues. As to testing, Sununu said it will triple soon.

Sununu again asked New Hampshire citizens to stay home and act responsibly to protect themselves, their families and neighbors engaging in social distancing, but stopped short of issuing a “Shelter-in-Place” directive.

Sununu said he is taking a regional approach comparable to what other states are doing, prompting candidates for the corner office to criticize his decision not to issue a directive. State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, both called for Shelter-in-Place orders.

Sununu spoke briefly about the state’s first death from COVID-19.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce today the first COVID-19-related death in New Hampshire,” Sununu said.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said the man was in the known high-risk group.

“This individual who passed away over the weekend was an adult male over the age of 60 from Hillsborough County and had multiple underlying chronic health conditions,” Chan said.

No further information was released about the man or where he died.

Sununu acknowledged the actions taken by Massachusetts Monday.

“Here in New Hampshire we value individual and community responsibility. In these unprecedented times people in New Hampshire truly have a great, great responsibility,” Sununu said. “We have to be accountable to each other and it’s imperative that everybody stay safe.”

People need to make smart decisions, stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible, Sununu said.

“We’re not telling people they can’t go outside and go on hikes and walks,” Sununu said. “But please avoid all unnecessary situations that can put you or your neighbors at risk.”

It is especially important for people over 60 with underlying chronic health conditions to stay home, Sununu said, calling on their neighbors to help by dropping off groceries or helping to shovel snow.

“How we act in the days and weeks ahead is going to be very important. If it becomes clear we are unable to continue, further action may be necessary” in order to ensure the health and safety of our neighbors, he said.

Chan said in the first three weeks since New Hampshire has been monitoring COVID-19, more than 2,400 people have been tested with 870 still pending.

Chan said there are more than 350,000 cases globally and 35,000 in the United States.

Deputy Commissioner of Employment Security Richard Lavers said 34,000 new individuals have registered for unemployment as a result of COVID-19 and the department has fielded more than 10,000 calls. He urged people to read the notices about continuing on unemployment and call 603-271-7700 if they have problems.

A reporter asked Sununu about calls from mayors in Manchester and Nashua for a Shelter-in-Place order. He said, “We are trying to take a regional approach.”
In Connecticut which has such an order, the businesses remain open, he said.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, who is running for governor, said he was disappointed to hear Sununu claim the Granite State is taking action comparable to the Shelter-in-Place directives and Stay-at-Home orders that other states have passed. “We haven’t shut down non-essential businesses, as now 14 other states have done.

“The governor’s announcement banning gatherings of 10 people or more puts him a full week behind Trump’s federal guidelines. According to the governor’s statement today, we are only now developing a focused child-care plan. We need to get ahead of this problem, and stop being consistently behind the curve,” Volinsky said in an email after the conference.

Sen. Feltes said via email, “In light of today’s news, and after talking with medical professionals and first responders, Governor Sununu should issue a stay-at-home directive. We cannot keep waiting. We cannot keep reacting. In order to save lives, we need to start being proactive.”

At the news conference, Sununu said he understands there are challenges ahead, but he believes in New Hampshire people and thanked them for what they are already doing.

“The days of playing pickup soccer at the park or having a neighborhood barbecue are temporarily suspended for the time being,” Sununu said, restating his mes

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