20200331-LOC-coronavirus

New Hampshire officials on Monday announced more than 50 additional positive tests for COVID-19, bringing the total to date above 300, as they described further measures to soften the economic impact on Granite Staters.

State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said at a news conference that 314 people have now tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, up 56 cases since Sunday, out of about 5,700 tests administered.

So far, three of New Hampshire’s confirmed cases have been fatal, involving two residents of Hillsborough County and one of Rockingham County. All of these patients were over 60 and had underlying health conditions, officials have said.

The majority of people in New Hampshire who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have experienced mild symptoms and are in isolation at their homes, Chan said, but about 45 people have required “some form of hospitalization.”

He added that 46 people known to have had the contagious disease have recovered.

As for the spike in cases between Sunday and Monday, Chan said it’s to be expected, emphasizing, as many health officials have, that the peak infection rate has yet to be reached.

He added that testing capacity is increasing and that the state’s public health laboratory had 60 to 70 tests still pending, down from the middle of last week, when there were 800 to 900 tests awaiting results. Sununu said the state is now able to test 400 to 500 people each day.

“The United States is in the acceleration phase of the pandemic of COVID-19,” Chan said. “So we are going to hear about increasing numbers of cases in the Unites States as a whole over the coming several weeks. We will continue to see increasing numbers of cases within New Hampshire.”

At Monday's news conference, Gov. Chris Sununu also announced additional unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sununu said minimum unemployment benefits will be increased from $32 to $168 per week. In addition, individuals will see a weekly boost of $600, paid for with federal funds as a result of the COVID-19 relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law last week.

Depending on what they were making before being laid off, a person could end up earning more on unemployment than they did on the job.

Sununu also said the duration someone can receive unemployment benefits for has been extended 13 weeks, to a total of 39 weeks.

“We are making every effort to provide assistance to families who are out of work during this time so that they can focus on what is most important — caring for their families and protecting their health by staying home,” the governor said in a news release issued after the press conference.

He added that those already receiving unemployment benefits will not need to take any new or additional steps to qualify for the additional money. They simply need to continue filing weekly, as had already been the requirement, Sununu said.

In addition, many New Hampshire small businesses will receive a deadline extension to pay their business taxes and their interest and dividend taxes. The deadline for both payments has been pushed to June 15 and will help “approximately 98 percent of New Hampshire’s small businesses,” Sununu said.

The governor also announced that standardized testing at New Hampshire schools has been suspended for this semester. The news comes after his announcement last week that public school closures will remain in effect until May 4.

“While remote learning has gotten off to an incredible start, we have to continue to have flexibility in our approach to education,” he said. “And onerous standardized tests from Washington I think definitely send the wrong message to New Hampshire families who are already working incredibly hard to adapt to this new learning environment.”

Sununu said the state is working with the College Board to ensure students who want to take their SATs in the summer or early fall are still able to do so.

Finally, the governor said the state has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government, which would allow the N.H. National Guard to be fully reimbursed for any services it may provide. Sununu said this may include fulfilling staffing needs.

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