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NH reports 19 COVID-19 deaths, highest single-day toll so far

New Hampshire health officials on Wednesday announced 19 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest one-day death toll in the state so far.

All were residents of long-term care facilities, which have accounted for the vast majority of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, N.H. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said at a news conference.

The people who died lived in Hillsborough, Rockingham and Merrimack counties. All were 60 years of age or older.

To date, New Hampshire has had a confirmed total of 111 deaths related to COVID-19, more than 70 percent of them associated with long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

The state health department has identified outbreaks at 16 such facilities. The only one in the Monadnock Region so far has been at Crotched Mountain in Greenfield, which led to one death. That outbreak is no longer considered active.

Also on Wednesday, the state health department announced that another 108 Granite Staters have tested positive for the viral disease. None were in Cheshire County, which has recorded 41 positives to date, or Sullivan County with 13.

Hillsborough County outside of Manchester and Nashua saw 27 more cases identified, bringing its total to 397.

Cases have been confirmed in a number of local towns since March. Of those, cases still considered active as of Wednesday were in Antrim, Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Hancock, Harrisville, Hillsboro, Hinsdale, Jaffrey, Keene, Peterborough, New Ipswich, Rindge, Swanzey, Temple, Washington and Westmoreland, according to state data.

More than 28,800 Granite Staters have been tested for the novel coronavirus to date. Of the 2,740 who have tested positive, 1,110 have recovered from the disease, about 1,500 are considered to still have it, and 307 have been hospitalized. Current hospitalizations as of Wednesday were 113.

Over the past week, the state has received an average of about 1,100 test results per day.

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NH opens COVID-19 testing to more people, boosts efforts at nursing homes

New Hampshire officials say they’re ramping up their efforts to test people for COVID-19, particularly those who live or work at long-term care facilities.

N.H. Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette described the new testing guidelines on the same day the state announced 19 additional COVID-19-related deaths, all affiliated with these types of facilities. As has been seen throughout the country, the virus has been known to travel quickly through congregate-living settings due to the close proximity of residents, many of whom already have health conditions. The 19 deaths involved residents of Hillsborough, Merrimack and Rockingham counties.

Also during Wednesday’s news conference, Gov. Chris Sununu announced an expansion of testing for the general public. Anyone who is either over 60, has an underlying medical condition, is a health care worker or is experiencing any symptom of COVID-19 can schedule a test online without a physician’s referral, he said.

Until recently, New Hampshire residents were encouraged to arrange testing through their primary care physicians. Those without a primary care doctor or who lack insurance were instructed to call 211 to arrange testing or get more information about options available through ConvenientMD.

Sununu said a link will go live Thursday on nh.gov that will allow residents who meet the criteria to book appointments for testing.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Shibinette said that while COVID-19 illness rates and hospitalizations for the general public have either leveled out or decreased, the opposite has happened in congregate-living settings.

Of the 111 total deaths related to the virus that have been confirmed so far among Granite Staters, she said more than 70 percent were affiliated with long-term care facilities.

“We took some very aggressive action early on,” she said. “And I think at this point it’s time to take further steps to address some of the long-term care testing issues.”

Shibinette said the state intends to test the workers and residents at all long-term care facilities.

New Hampshire has also received supplies from the federal government to perform a less invasive nasal swab. Those will be provided to all long-term care facilities so they can collect samples in-house and send them back to the state lab. These tests will be performed on all residents who have not already tested positive for the virus, according to Shibinette.

After that, she said, the state will randomly select 10 facilities to perform tests each week and will ask for swabs from 10 percent of their resident populations.

“This allows us to get a really good, diverse set of swabs from different facilities around the state to understand whether COVID-19 is coming into the resident population undetected in an asymptomatic resident,” she said.

The next focus, Shibinette noted, will be on testing staff members at long-term care facilities. The goal is to test all staff members for the virus every seven to 10 days in an effort to “stop this at the door.”

She said the plan is to set up seven to nine mobile testing units in collaboration with the National Guard, some of the state’s private partners and ConvenientMD, which is already doing testing across the state, to offer testing for these workers.

To date, New Hampshire has tested 1,000 residents and 5,000 employees of long-term care facilities, Shibinette said.

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Keene High principal search narrows to one candidate

More than 25 candidates applied to be Keene High School’s next principal, but only one made it to the public round of the application process this week.

Cindy Gallagher, who previously served as superintendent of the Newport School District and currently works as the director of the school of education at Franklin Pierce University, met virtually with Keene High School staff and N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 administrators Monday.

During the hour-long meeting, Gallagher introduced herself; outlined her approach to education, leadership and decision-making; and took questions.

Current Keene High School Principal Jim Logan announced in mid-February that he will step down at the end of the academic year.

Logan, a former director of the Cheshire Career Center, has been at Keene High for 14 years. He took over as interim principal during the 2014-15 school year, and assumed the role permanently during the following school year.

During her presentation Monday, Gallagher said she views education as a process.

“It’s that simple,” she said. “... People use education for different things. For me, it’s a primary role to equity. So, if equity is about job security, then we have education processes set up to take people to careers. If equity is about getting students to read because we’re in the younger grades, then we have processes to do that.”

Gallagher added that she uses data to inform her decisions, but relies on collaboration to make final choices. If she gets the job, Gallagher said Keene High School staff, students and families should expect her to be accessible and honest.

“I’ll tell you answers when I can, I’ll tell you I don’t know when I don’t know, and I’ll tell you I can’t tell you if I really can’t tell you,” she said.

About 1,400 students attend Keene High from Keene, Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan, Surry, Westmoreland and Winchester, according to the school’s website.

The meeting was recorded, and posted to the SAU 29 website Tuesday, and community members could submit feedback via a form on the website.

“We would normally host a live forum in the Keene High School gymnasium for stakeholders to meet the candidates,” Nancy Deutsch, SAU 29’s director of human resources, said on the video. “However, given the governor’s stay-at-home order and the closure of all school buildings to the public we have created this virtual forum.”

Deutsch, along with SAU 29 Assistant Superintendent Brian Campbell, oversee a 10-person search committee, which consists of teachers, school officials, parents and a student. The group began by surveying high school staff and community members on what attributes they wanted in a principal, Campbell said.

The committee began meeting in early March, and received 27 applications for the job. The group screened 10 applicants by phone and interviewed six of them beginning in early April.

Ultimately, Gallagher was the only candidate who fit all of the criteria that staff and community members wanted, including proven leadership, collaborative decision-making and an ability to connect with students and the community, Campbell said.

“So when the committee interviewed the other candidates, they may have found strengths in particular areas, but not in all of the areas that the group is looking for in a candidate,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And they felt that Dr. Gallagher met or exceeded all the attributes, so she was the only one that they felt comfortable moving forward.”

Gallagher holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., and a master’s and doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, according to her faculty biography on the Franklin Pierce University website. She also earned her law degree from the University of New Hampshire in 2001.

Before entering public education, Gallagher worked for seven years in a variety of roles at New England College in Henniker, including as an assistant professor. She started at the Newport School District in 2007, according to her LinkedIn profile, and served as superintendent from January 2015 until last June. Gallagher began her role at Franklin Pierce University last August.

Reached via email on Wednesday afternoon, she declined to offer any additional comment.

The search committee will reconvene Thursday afternoon, Campbell said, to go through all of the staff and public feedback on Gallagher’s presentation and discuss the reference checks that Campbell and Deutsch conducted.

After that, the group will decide whether or not to recommend Gallagher to Superintendent Robert Malay, who would then decide whether to nominate Gallagher for the role.

“By statute, only the superintendent can present a nomination to the school board, and the school board weighs in on whether or not to approve the nomination,” Malay said Wednesday. “However, during these uncertain times, many of our school boards have granted me the authority to go ahead and hire without presenting the nomination to the board, and then reconciling it the next time that we meet.”

The Keene Board of Education gave Malay that authority at its March 17 meeting.

“It is a standard authority given every summer, but given the circumstances, they extended it from the time we closed schools down just to make sure that we weren’t delaying any processes longer than they needed to be delayed,” Malay said.

He added that he does not want to speculate when a final decision might be made because he does not want to put any pressure on the search committee.

“I want them to feel comfortable with what they’re doing and feel positive with what they’re doing and proceed the best way forward,” he said.

The next Keene High principal will be the school’s fourth leader within the past decade. Lynda C. “Lynne” Wagner held the post for two years before Logan, and she was preceded by Alan Chmiel, who served in the role from 2006 to 2012.