New Hampshire virtual town hall draws questions about COVID-19 relief, reopening

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan hosted a COVID-19 telephone town hall Tuesday as the state recorded four new deaths, bringing the total to 214.

Shaheen, Hassan and state officials fielded questions about additional relief funding, the reopening o the economy and what schools might look like come this fall.

“Does it look like there will be options for people to stay at home and learn online, or are they leaning toward getting everyone back in the building?” asked Maggie, a teacher from Wilton.

Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, said ast least two factors need to be considered.

“One of which is what happens with this pandemic over the next few months,” Dr. Chan said. “The other thing it depends on is the capacity of schools to be able to implement social distancing in the classroon setting.”

On Tuesday, state health officials reported 34 new positive test result, bringing the total number of cases to 4,231. More than 90 people are hospitalized.

Gov. Chris Sununu has formed a task force that will take a sector-by-sector approach to reopening schools. The same task force will be making recommendations on reopening businesses, many of which are struggling.

One restaurant owner from Littleton said he’s received Paycheck Protection Program money, but the immediate future is still unclear.

“How can we get an extension done quickly so I don’t have to lay off employees in two weeks?, he asked. “I mean, we’re following all the guidelines and rules to do this right and not put anyone at risk, and I’d hate to lose these people.”

Shaheen said there is bipartisan agreement in Congress that more flexibility needs to be provided in how the funds are used, allowing for employers to spend more of it on personal protective equiment, for example.

“There are two pieces of legislation that would extend the eight-week period of the [paycheck protection] program, one to 16 weeks and another to 24 weeks,” Shaheen said. “My guess is we will agree somewhere in the middle.”

For New Hampshire residents still having issues with unemployment, Hassan offered her assistance.

“For anyone who is having difficulty getting in contact with either a state or federal agency during this time, my office has a dedicated constituent service team, as does Sen. Shaheen,” she said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Shaheen and Hassan sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging the Trump Administration to quickly award money to hospitals. The letter argued that New Hampshire hospitals on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak need additional support to confront increased expenses and reduced revenues associated with the nation’s response to the virus.

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