Hospitals take on virus testing, broadband funds spent

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Hospitals are taking over community-based testing for the new coronavirus, and broadband internet service is being expanded to help with remote learning and at-home work during the pandemic.

Coronavirus developments in New Hampshire:

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HOSPITAL TESTING

Nearly all of New Hampshire’s hospitals soon will offer testing for the new coronavirus, the state health commissioner said Thursday.

The nine testing locations the state currently operates eventually will close as hospitals take on the community-based testing, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said. Nineteen facilities are participating, though the list does not include the state’s largest hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which limits its testing to hospitalized patients and health care workers.

The hospitals will use a variety of labs to process the tests, limiting the impact of any one company's backlog, Shibinette said. The goal will be a turnaround time of about three days for test results, she said, and the state will monitor usage and add a testing site if gaps emerge.

Two dozen urgent care centers and a dozen pharmacies around the state also are offering the tests.

“Access to testing should not be an issue for anybody at all,” Shibinette said.

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BROADBAND CONTRACTS

The state is using about $16 million of its federal virus relief aid to expand broadband internet to about 5,500 properties, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.

Of that total, $6.5 million will be going to a variety of vendors for service to 3,100 customers in Bristol, Danbury, Deering, Errol, Hillsboro, Mason, Springfield, Stoddard and Washington. Contracts worth another $9.6 million are expected to be finalized next week for another 2,400 properties, Sununu said.

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CAMP RELIEF

New Hampshire summer camps that temporarily shut down or limited operations because of the coronavirus won't have to fear permanent closure for running afoul of zoning ordinances.

Gov. Chris Sununu issued an emergency order Thursday that affects camps that pre-date their local zoning ordinances and are allowed to operate as “pre-existing nonconforming uses.” In many towns and cities, however, properties can lose that status if they are closed for 12 months.

Sununu's order prevents municipalities from discontinuing a camp's status if it closed, shortened its season or opened at reduced capacity because of the virus. He said the order would protect camps from uncertainty, expensive litigation and potential closure.

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MASK MANDATE

Another New Hampshire community has passed an emergency ordinance requiring residents to wear face coverings, or face fines starting at $50.

The ordinance passed Wednesday night by the Town Council in Newmarket applies to employees at businesses and members of the public. Children under 5 are not required to wear masks, nor are people advised not to wear them for health-related reasons.

Similar to an ordinance passed earlier this week in nearby Durham, the measure stands for 60 days and can be renewed.

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THE NUMBERS

As of Thursday, 6,742 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 25 from the previous day. One new death was announced, bringing the total to 419. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases increased over the past two weeks, from 24 new cases per day on July 22 to 27 new cases per day on Aug. 5.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.

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This story has been corrected to show that the virus numbers are up to date as of Thursday, not Wednesday.

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Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.