Unlike Vermont, NH close-lipped on which facilities have had COVID-19 cases

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Following Crotched Mountain’s announcement Tuesday that several staff and residents had contracted COVID-19, state officials said they were aware of a “couple” other long-term care facilities that had seen cases of the respiratory illness.

Citing patient confidentiality, officials declined to identify the facilities or say where they are located, exactly how many have seen cases or what type of institutions they are.

“Those facilities we’re working with at individual levels,” Gov. Chris Sununu said during a news conference Wednesday, after he was asked whether the state would release the facilities’ names. “And again, if they wanted to release their information, I suppose that’s up to them. But that’s not the role of the state to identify that at this time.”

Vermont officials, by contrast, have named facilities where people have tested positive for the illness, including Burlington Health & Rehab, a nursing facility associated with multiple deaths. 

A day before Sununu’s news conference, Crotched Mountain — a Greenfield-based center serving people with disabilities — announced that three adult residents and three staff members, all associated with one group home, had tested positive. One of the residents had died due to complications of COVID-19, the contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, the facility said.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, was asked about that outbreak. He said state officials are working with Crotched Mountain and other facilities with vulnerable populations to protect residents and staff.

“Any facility that has identified COVID-19 in a long-term care facility, certainly if there is a cluster of illnesses, we’re actively working with them to make sure that they have the appropriate infection-control preventions in place,” he said.

Asked how many New Hampshire facilities have had confirmed cases of the disease, he said he didn’t have an exact number.

“You mentioned one [Crotched Mountain] that we’re actively engaged with, and there are a couple others in the state that I’m aware of,” he said. “But this is constantly changing on a daily basis.”

After the news conference, The Sentinel asked the state’s Joint Information Center — which is handling all coronavirus-related media questions — what types of facilities, and how many, have had cases.

In an emailed response, a state spokesperson declined to answer. “All official information regarding individuals and COVID-19 in New Hampshire that is available under HIPAA restrictions is being provided through the updates provided at www.nh.gov/covid19,” the spokesperson wrote. HIPAA is a federal law that includes privacy protections for patients.

An email with followup questions — including whether there are any circumstances in which the state would identify a facility experiencing an outbreak — went unanswered Thursday.

On Thursday, N.H. Public Radio reported that Hanover Hill, a nursing home in Manchester, has been dealing with COVID-19. It is unclear how many cases are associated with the facility.

Locally, no staff or residents at the county-owned Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Cheshire County Administrator Christopher Coates.

No positive tests have been associated with the five nursing homes owned by Genesis HealthCare in the Monadnock Region, in Keene, Peterborough and Winchester, according to Lori Mayer, a spokeswoman.

She said three of Genesis’ New Hampshire facilities — in Carroll, Merrimack and Strafford counties — each have had one employee test positive. One has already passed the 14-day incubation period with no additional cases, she said Wednesday afternoon.

Both Maplewood and Genesis say they are taking steps to keep residents safe, including limiting visitation, keeping residents in their rooms and screening employees for symptoms before every shift.

People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are at especially high risk right now, due to the group-living setting and populations who tend to be older and in poorer health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Seniors and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for severe illness due to COVID-19, and the highly contagious virus that causes it can spread quickly in close quarters.  

In an interview with Atlanta-based WABE Monday, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the virus is “probably now about three times as infectious as flu.”

In Vermont, multiple deaths have been associated with reported outbreaks at Genesis-owned Burlington Health & Rehab and a senior-living community in nearby Essex Junction.

On Wednesday, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine named six other facilities — including senior-living and health-care facilities — with confirmed COVID-19 activity. None of them are in Windham County.

“None of them should merit a scarlet letter,” Levine said. “This is really something we’re going to see more and more, not only in Vermont but across the nation.”

Sentinel staff writer Anika Clark contributed reporting.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org