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Health experts: Masks a must as NH reopens

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 5/29/2020 5:17:48 PM

As the state begins to reopen restaurants and attractions, New Hampshire health experts highly recommend wearing facial coverings and to avoid large crowds.

In just one week, from May 11 to May 18, the number of COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire went from 1,796 to 2,211, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

This comes as Gov. Chris Sununu’s “Stay at Home 2.0” order has allowed many businesses around the state to reopen with certain restrictions. Hair salons, restaurants for outdoor dining, retail establishments and child care settings, are among the places that have been given the greenlight to open. In Portsmouth, more than 40 restaurants were approved for outdoor seating.

While people might attribute the rise in COVID-19 cases to the partial reopening of the state, Dr. Alexandra Howell, from Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, said there are many factors. This includes the rising number of tests the state has conducted, and the number of people who have followed social distancing guidelines since mid-March but are now feeling comfortable enough to leave their homes.

“It’s difficult to attribute changes in the number of new cases to any one single factor, such as opening up businesses or schools,” Howell said. “There is not enough known about how transmittable the virus is, why some people are infected but asymptomatic, and the period following exposure when one is most infectious.”

Experts do know the virus is transmittable through the nose and mouth. Howell suggested wearing a facial covering and washing hands to block the transmission of the virus in addition to keeping a distance from others. There is not enough evidence to say with certainty wearing a mask will fully protect someone from the virus, Howell said, but wearing a facial covering is still essential since people can be infected with COVID-19 and not show any symptoms.

According to NH DHHS, the second most common way to contract the virus, after cluster-association, is from community transmission, with the number of people obtaining the virus from May 11 rising from 632 people to 716 May 18.

“What is likely to cause spikes in the number of cases as states relax their restrictions and open business is a general sense of complacency from the public,” she said, urging people to take precautions until there is a vaccine established.

Michael Calderwood, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, had similar advice about wearing a mask and avoiding crowds.

“Wash your hands, and wear a mask in stores,” he said. “While a third of cases have been associated with a cluster (three or more cases within a workplace or facility), the second most common, 20%, is community transmission related to an unknown case.”

Howell suggested examples of “good places to start” have been seen in Vermont, where the state has taken a slower approach to reopening – restaurants in the state a week later than New Hampshire, May 22, and barbershops and closer contact businesses are not opening until May 29.

In addition, restaurants and hair salons have to “keep a log of customers and their contact information for 30 days, in the event that tracing [of COVID-19] is required by The Vermont Department of Health,” according to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s website.

As of this writing, New Hampshire doesn’t require restaurants to log customers.


These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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