NH virus updates: Senate passes absentee ballot bill; back to school talks progress

By Holly Ramer, Associated Press

CONCORD — Summer has barely started, but fall was the focus Monday for lawmakers, college administrators and others responding to the coronavirus in New Hampshire.

Election 2020

A bill to streamline the absentee voting process amid concerns about the coronavirus has cleared the state Senate.

The bill, which makes temporary changes to election law, is necessary to implement the recommendations of a committee that advised Secretary of State Bill Gardner on spending the $3.1 million in emergency money the state got from the federal coronavirus relief package.

“We have to all rally around the Secretary of State’s office and give them all the support they need to implement all these recommendations and perhaps more so that every eligible voter who wants to vote can do so safely,” said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. “That means to fully support the absentee process.”

While the attorney general’s office already has said voters concerned about the virus can cast absentee ballots by indicating they have a “disability,” the bill would create a new box to check that specifies the virus as the reason for not voting in person. It also would allow voters to use one application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election. And it would allow town officials to begin processing ballots several days before the election, though they could not view them or tally the votes until Election Day.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously Monday. It now goes to the House.

Back to school planning

An education advisory group put the final touches on its initial recommendations Monday, but there is more work ahead, said state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

The School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce plans to issue 10 preliminary recommendations Tuesday. It discussed the first half last week with recommendations related to establishing district and school management communications plans; determining public health protocols; preparing the school environment; supporting student, family and educator wellness; and establishing hybrid learning capacity. Monday’s session focused on the second half: reviewing transportation policies, planning for school meal delivery, planning for instruction, professional development and technology considerations.

The next step, Edulblut said, will be drafting detailed guidance to add “texture” to each recommendation. An analysis of a survey of parents will be released, and a second survey will be conducted to gather wider community input.

The numbers

State health officials on Monday announced 14 new positive test results for the coronavirus, raising the state’s total to 5,760. No additional deaths were reported, keeping the state’s total at 367 (about 6% of all cases).

Officials reported 4,435 people are confirmed as recovered (about 77% of all cases). No additional hospitalizations were reported, leaving the state’s pandemic total at 565 (about 10% of all cases). Officials reported 118,298 tests have been completed in the state.

Among the 14 new cases with complete information, there is one person under age 18 and the rest are adults, with 43% female and 57% male. The new cases reside in Hillsborough County other than Manchester and Nashua (4), Cheshire (2), Merrimack (2), and Rockingham (1) counties, and in the cities of Manchester (3) and Nashua (2).

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.

On campus

Dartmouth College students will return to campus for the next academic year, but not all at the same time.

The college released details Monday of its plan to combine residential and remote learning. Officials said about half of the undergraduate study body will be on campus for each term, with each class having one term in which they will have priority. Students will be tested for the virus and must quarantine for 14 days after arrival, and will live in single rooms or two-room doubles.

The majority of classes will be conducted remotely given the reduced classroom space because of social distancing requirements. Face coverings will be required in all but private spaces.

“The reality of COVID-19 means that the campus environment will be very different this fall,” President Philip Hanlon and Provost Joseph Helble wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff.

A decision on the fall athletic season is expected next month.

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