- Associated Press - Monday, February 1, 2021

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Lawmakers would be able to rescind emergency orders issued by the state’s top health official under a bill inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.

While the governor’s powers during a state of emergency have come under scrutiny, state law also grants authority to the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency orders. In April, Commissioner Lori Shibinette issued an order prohibiting the prescribing of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine - two drugs promoted by former President Donald Trump - to prevent COVID-19.

That prompted a bill sponsored by Rep. William Marsh, R-Brookfield, a retired physician, who argues the commissioner should be allowed to limit the amount of drugs prescribed during a shortage but should not be able to prohibit such prescriptions altogether. His bill also would allow a legislative oversight committee to rescind such orders by a two-thirds majority vote.

“At end of day, this is a balance of powers issue,” he told the House Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on Monday. “Either the Legislature has right to say no when something is extreme … or they do not.”

Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the department’s Division of Public Health Services, said the department welcomes review by lawmakers but has concerns about giving them the authority to overturn decisions. The commissioner’s emergency powers are used sparingly in only extreme cases, she said.



“Never in our lifetimes have these powers been so visible and needed to the extent we’re seeing today,” she said. “The commissioner’s authority is an important tool in our toolbox to swiftly control outbreaks and disease, and we have used the expertise of epidemiologist, physicians and others to help guide us through these complex, ethical decisions.”

In other coronavirus developments:

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FOOD BENEFITS

New Hampshire is making it easier for families to apply for supplemental food benefits after seeing an increase in demand during the pandemic.

The number of families applying to the Woman, Infants and Children Nutrition Program has increased 12% since the beginning of the pandemic, said Dr. Sai Cherala, chief of the state’s Bureau of Population Health and Community Services.

In response, the state has launched an online tool that allows families to request an appointment to determine their eligibility.

“We recognize the stress that comes with supporting a young family during this challenging time, and our goal is to address food insecurity head-on and do everything we can to ensure that families can put healthy meals on their tables,” Cherala said in a statement.

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THE NUMBERS

More than 66,000 people have tested positive for the virus, including 364 cases announced Monday that included numbers from two days. Two additional deaths were announced, bringing the total to 1,059.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased increase over the past two weeks, going from 752 new cases per day on Jan. 17 to 480 new cases per day on Sunday.

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