New Hampshire is experiencing a rise in coronavirus that isn't expected to end soon, Gov. Chris Sununu said, identifying local gatherings as a top source of the virus' spread.
But Election Day may have caused the virus to spread as well, officials said. Four people who voted in person on Nov. 3 have recently tested positive and told health workers that they weren't able to maintain the recommended social distance while waiting in line, prompting a warning for all those who voted in person in New Hampshire.
That was one of several announcements made at the news briefing in Concord Thursday afternoon:
- Anyone who visited a polling place on Election Day should monitor themselves for coronavirus symptoms, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said.
- The state will stop contact tracing all cases, amid the general rise in the number of cases, and start prioritizing tracing cases in at-risk groups, State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said.
- And the state is modifying its requirements for leisure travel outside of New England, allowing travelers returning to New England to end their quarantine for seven days if they then test negative for COVID-19, Sununu said. Prior guidance, a 14-day quarantine, remains an option as well.
And Sununu urged people to be cautious around Thanksgiving gatherings this month, since people have been getting infected at "any gathering where people are feeling too comfortable and not wearing masks," like barbeques.
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He wouldn't say that people should hold off on having Thanksgiving, but noted that, "every time a group of people come together, there is a risk." That's especially true of people in at-risk groups, he said.
The four polling places that have been associated with potential community exposure are Souhegan High School, Pembroke Academy, Belmont High School and Newfields Elementary School, Shibinette said.
But she noted that, "really anybody, based on our rate of community transmission right now, if you were in line at a polling station at Election Day, you really need to be monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19."
That includes Sununu, who voted at Newfields, though the governor noted much earlier in the day than the person who went on to test positive. Nevertheless, he said, "if you have symptoms, if you have concerns, get tested, stay quarantined."
Sununu was also asked if he considers Joe Biden the president-elect, something many other Republicans, including President Donald Trump, haven't acknowledged.
Sununu was unequivocal, calling Biden the president-elect and adding that "there is no indication of widespread voter fraud here in New Hampshire."
New Hampshire has now had 1,340 people test positive for the virus, including 323 new ones Thursday. Three deaths were announced, all in long-term care, bringing the total to 495.
Average new infections per day and the percentage of COVID tests returning positive are both up as well, Chan said, though Sununu pointed out that New Hampshire is still trending better than Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Sixty-four people are in New Hampshire hospitals, but Sununu said he suspects that number will rise soon, and said field hospitals are ready to handle increased capacity. He also believes that within a few weeks, the state will be reporting more than 1,000 cases in a day.
"My job is to prepare for the worst, unfortunately," Sununu said.
According to NBC News, New Hampshire has seen a 91% increase in coronavirus cases in the state over the last two weeks, among the highest in the country.
Many of the new cases are being reported in people under the age of 18, state health officials have said.
The town of Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, said COVID-19 cases more than doubled from 32 to 72 over the past week alone.
On Thursday, Sununu joined governors from the other five New England states as well as New Jersey in banning interstate youth hockey tournaments through the end of 2020 due to a rise in hockey-related COVID-19 outbreaks.
He said at the news conference that his administration has looked at expanding the guidance for other winter sports but didn't have anything to announce. He said hockey has more interstate travel than other youth sports in New England.
"We're trying to be very specific, data-driven about it," Sununu said.
Sununu had previously put a two-week halt on all youth hockey in the state, but that has since been lifted.