A COVID-19 outbreak has struck an assisted-living facility in Keene for the first time, officials said Thursday, as New Hampshire set another one-day record for new cases and the state announced it would no longer do contact tracing every time someone tests positive.
The outbreak is at the Prospect-Woodward assisted-living facility at the Hillside Village campus on Wyman Road, N.H. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
So far, eight residents and two staff members have tested positive, she said.
In an email Thursday, Hillside Village Executive Director Jolynn Whitten confirmed residents and staff have tested positive but did not give specific numbers.
“The health and safety of our team members and residents is our top priority; therefore, we enhanced our internal processes and protocols at the onset of this health crisis to better protect our community,” she said in the statement. “We are supporting the affected individuals, who are currently in quarantine or self-isolation. Our hope is that they have a full and rapid recovery.”
Whitten said the facility continues to clean and sanitize frequently, restrict visitation, forgo group meals and activities, require mask wearing and screen staff members daily for symptoms of COVID-19. Whitten did not immediately respond to a request for more information about how Hillside Village is handling the outbreak.
The outbreak is the first at a Monadnock Region long-term care facility since one at Crotched Mountain in Greenfield in the spring. But across New Hampshire, numerous nursing homes and other group-living facilities have seen outbreaks. Along with Hillside Village, state officials announced two other new outbreaks Thursday, at Coos County Nursing Hospital in Stewartstown and the N.H. Veterans Home in Tilton.
As of Thursday, long-term care settings had accounted for about 20 percent of the state’s total cases, and more than 80 percent of its deaths, according to state health data.
Shibinette said the state will likely see more nursing-home outbreaks as the virus spreads in the community.
“The staff that take care of these residents are part of our communities,” she said. “They go to our grocery stores, they interact with everybody else in the community, and our elderly residents in long-term care facilities don’t have the option to socially distance themselves from their caregivers.”
On Thursday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan announced that another three New Hampshire residents have died due to the coronavirus — residents of Hillsborough and Coos counties associated with long-term care facilities — bringing the total death toll to 495.
“This pandemic virus is now widespread in our state,” Chan said. “The number of infections is also increasing, the hospitalizations are increasing, the test positivity rate is increasing, and the number of people dying from COVID-19 is also increasing.”
He said 323 more Granite Staters have tested positive for the virus — another record high — and the first time the state has topped 300 new cases in a single day.
Meanwhile, with infections surging, the state health department will no longer call everyone who tests positive to identify other people they may have infected.
Instead, state contact tracers will focus on the groups that are at higher risk or likelier to spread the virus, including children, people over 65, health-care workers, members of racial and ethnic minorities that have been disproportionately affected and people in group care settings like nursing homes, Shibinette said.
The state will also rely on health-care providers to pass along information about isolating and quarantining when they inform people of positive COVID-19 tests, she added.
Cases in New Hampshire have been rising throughout the fall. The state averaged 240 new cases per day over the past week, compared to fewer than 30 in early September.
The numbers have also trended upward in Cheshire County, which added six more cases Thursday and is now averaging a record nine new cases per day, according to state health data.
Vermont also set a one-day record Thursday with 109 new cases, according to the news outlet Seven Days.
Gov. Chris Sununu noted that the percentage of tests coming back positive is rising, going from just below 1 percent in September to above 2 percent more recently. The numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has also surged — from 17 one month ago to 64 Thursday.
Both metrics are important because they show that the increase in cases is not just due to more people being tested, he noted.
Contact tracing shows the virus is often being spread at small gatherings of friends or extended family, where people are not social distancing or wearing masks, Sununu said.
He said the state doesn’t plan to restrict non-urgent hospital visits again, as it did in the spring, but can rapidly set up temporary medical facilities if cases and hospitalizations keep rising.
And he warned that daily case counts will likely get higher. “If you ask me where we’re gonna be in two weeks,” he said, “I think we’re over a thousand.”