COVID-19

Gov. Chris Sununu has laid out the process by which communities will be notified if a COVID-19 case is discovered in a school and how districts should proceed.

During a Thursday news conference, the governor said students or faculty members who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay home and isolate until at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms and until after they’ve been feeling better for at least 24 hours. They must also be fever-free for 14 hours without the use of medication.

After a student or staff member is notified of the positive result, the school will be notified by public health officials; the school, in turn, will notify the community, Sununu said.

“Every school will have its own communication plan to notify the community of a positive case when it was confirmed,” Sununu said. “And while that individual ... isolates at home, public health officials will work with the family and the school to determine any close contacts through contact tracing.”

Sununu also defined what would constitute a COVID-19 cluster within a school and what would be considered an outbreak. He said instances where there are three or more cases in a single classroom is a cluster.

The school will be in outbreak status if community spread is identified, he said. This means that the virus has spread between students of different classrooms while they are in common areas, such as a cafeteria. At this point, the school may be asked to consider closing its doors temporarily.

“When an outbreak is identified, public health may recommend that the school transition to more of a remote learning model for a period of at least 14 days,” Sununu said. He added later that this is not the automatic result of an outbreak and that schools would work with public health officials to determine the best course of action.

Finally, the governor announced that he would be signing an emergency order allowing school districts to begin implementing their reopening plans. He said a key component of this order focuses on “ensuring that some of our most susceptible students aren’t left behind.”

When New Hampshire schools began transitioning to a remote-learning model back in the spring, Sununu said, the process showed that some students were falling through the cracks. He said the order makes it clear that all special-education requirements that districts are expected to meet in normal times must still be adhered to, including the terms of individualized education programs.

“We understand that the past few months have been a challenge,” Sununu said. “But we can’t allow the challenge to stand in the way of providing our children with the services that they deserve, that they need, to receive an education suited to their needs.”

Nursing home visitation

In other news, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced new visitation guidelines for long-term care facilities on Thursday. She introduced four phases, labeled zero through three, each with their own list of restrictions.

Any facility that is experiencing an outbreak, or has been outbreak-free for less than two weeks, is in phase zero, and only compassionate care visits are allowed. Facilities in counties with fewer than 50 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people are at phase one and can also enjoy outdoor visitation. Facilities will be promoted to phase two after operating successfully in phase one for 14 days, at which point guests will be permitted limited indoor visitation.

Facilities will be elevated to phase three if they are in counties with fewer than 10 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, and up to two visitors per resident will be permitted.

“For many months, we have been struggling with this balance of physical safety and psycho-social wellbeing for our elders in long-term care,” Shibinette said during the news conference. “There are many elders that have gone months without seeing a loved one. I think this is our path forward so we’re able to allow visitors.”

If cases around a long-term care facility begin to spike, tighter restrictions may be put back in place.

Childcare class sizes

Finally, Sununu also announced that New Hampshire childcare facilities may now begin to expand their class sizes. Before Thursday, they had been required to restrict classes to 10 students, but that number has been increased to 20.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MiaSummerson