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New Hampshire joins other states in declaring emergency

March 14, 2020 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu declared a state of emergency Friday due to the new coronavirus, saying that while the risk to the public remains low, the move was necessary to allow the state to remain nimble in its response.

The latest developments about the state’s efforts to contain the virus that causes COVID-19:

THE NUMBERS

Seven people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in New Hampshire: Three men in Grafton County and three men and one woman in Rockingham County. Nearly 300 people are being monitored by the state.

The seventh case was announced late Friday night. The state health department said the woman spent five days — March 2-5 and March 10, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — at the Manchester branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles this month. Visitors to the DMV during those times were advised to monitor for symptoms. That branch will be closed Saturday for enhanced cleaning and investigation.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of people recover. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The state has set up a hotline for residents who have concerns about COVID-19. Those who call 2-1-1 can reach specialists who will refer them to appropriate resources.

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THE DECLARATION

Sununu said the state isn’t any less safe than it was a week ago, but he made the declaration in part because of growing community concerns.

“The risk to New Hampshire remains very low,” he said. “We just want to make we are nimble and we can act quickly as the situation may evolve rapidly. We’ve seen that happen in other states, and we want to be prepared.”

Under the 21-day declaration, nearly all visitors to the state’s more than 70 nursing homes and hundreds of other residential elder care facilities will be banned. Out-of-state travel for school groups will be prohibited, as will any non-essential out-of-state travel for state and municipal employees. The declaration also allows state workers to be reassigned as needed, and streamlines contracting and healthcare licensing requirements to ensure health care facilities are prepared, Sununu said.

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TOWN MEETINGS

More than half a dozen towns decided Friday to postpone their annual meetings at which voters come together to debate and decide spending for the next year. About 140 towns hold such meetings, and many were scheduled for Saturday.

State law allows town moderators to postpone elections or town meetings under certain circumstances, including an “emergency” that they believe would render the gathering place unsafe. The attorney general’s office issued a memo to moderators Friday urging them to consult with their town’s legal counsel before postponing any meetings. It also noted that those who decide to postpone must inform voters by posting notices on town websites, at the meeting place and other public places.

Margaret Byrnes, director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said her office began hearing from multiple communities soon after the memo went out. By late afternoon, at least seven had decided to postpone, she said.

A notice on the town website in Loudon said Saturday’s town meeting was rescheduled for March 28 and could be postponed again. Plainfield postponed its meeting to June 13, and Enfield postponed to May 9. Enfield Town Moderator Lindsay Smith called it a “lose-lose situation.”

“The Attorney General’s Office did not want to be responsible for making this decision; no one does,” she wrote in a message posted on the town website. “So it came down to me, one person, me. And it was a very difficult position.”

Though the memo mentioned only town meetings, officials said the same laws apply to school meetings. Hopkinton was among those postponing its school district meeting, which has been rescheduled to March 28.

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FINANCIAL FALLOUT

Sununu also said Friday the state must take action to ensure budget remains balanced in the face of a likely decline in revenue due to the new coronavirus.

In a letter to the legislative fiscal committee, Sununu said he will ask some department heads to immediately cut expenses in the coming days. Other departments will get guidance on how to identify savings through phased implementation of programs and other methods. He said while he intends to continue funding core and critical programs and services, the state must prepare for disruptions in travel and tourism, trade and business revenues.

“It would be financial malpractice to wait until revenues decline so substantially that even greater cuts would be necessary,” he wrote.

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AT THE STATEHOUSE

March 26 is “crossover day” — the last day for the House and Senate to act on bills that originated in their chambers, but both bodies have amended their rules to delay their deadlines if necessary due the spread of the virus.

The changes were approved Thursday, when House lawmakers stayed for a marathon 19-hour session to meet a separate deadline to act on roughly 150 bills that had been handled by only one committee.

Elsewhere, concerns about the coronavirus are starting to disrupt legislative business in state capitols across the country. Several chambers have canceled sessions for next week, including those in Delaware, Illinois and Missouri. Officials at other state capitols are urging the public to stay away while they work.

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SCHOOL CLOSINGS The state hasn’t seen widespread school closures, but several began moving in that direction.

The Nashua School District plans to close schools from Monday through Friday.

In Rochester, schools also will be closed for the week. There will be no classes on Monday, and then remote instruction for the remainder of the week.

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PEACE BE WITH YOU

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester has asked parishioners to not attend Mass if they are sick or need to care for someone who is sick, especially those experiencing respiratory symptoms or fever. It also has suspended the “sign of peace” and administering Holy Communion via the chalice during Mass, and has suspended coffee socials after Mass.

Similarly, the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire also is asking members who feel ill to stay home. It also is urging clergy to use packaged communion wafers instead of homemade bread and to not offer communion wine.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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