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COVID-19 updates, March 19: Two deaths in Vt.; second Dartmouth student tests positive

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 3/19/2020 12:45:06 PM
Modified: 3/19/2020 11:30:10 PM

Two senior citizens with COVID-19 have died in Vermont, the first two deaths in the Twin States.

One is a Windsor County veteran in his 90s who was hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, and the other was a female resident of Burlington Health and Rehab, a skilled nursing facility. Both patients died on Thursday.

“Both were very elderly,” said Vermont Health Department Commissioner Mark Levine, who announced the deaths Thursday evening in a news conference with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

He said neither patient had contracted the new coronavirus through travel.

“We are now experiencing the type of community spread that has been seen in other states,” Levine said.

Scott said the deaths are sad news for the entire state, but not unexpected given the nature of the pandemic.

“We will get through this, because we are all in this together,” Scott said. “At times like this, Vermonters rise to the occasion.”

New Hampshire lays out new guidelines

Earlier in the day, New Hampshire health officials unveiled new COVID-19 testing guidelines in response to shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies.

People experiencing symptoms that can be managed at home — fever, dry cough and fatigue — are being instructed to self-isolate until at least seven days after symptoms first appeared and another 72 hours after they’ve passed.

The state’s public health laboratory has so far tested more than 1,400 people for COVID-19, and more than 630 tests are still pending, according to State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan. However, he said, shortages have “strained” testing capacity and there are limitations on who can be tested.

“Even now, there is potentially a need to prioritize testing for those who are more seriously ill. For example, people who are hospitalized and those who are at risk of spreading it further within our communities — health care workers, people working in long-term care facilities and others who work with larger populations of individuals,” Chan said.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock earlier this week announced it is focusing testing on “hospitalized patients, and those who work in health care settings with direct, face-to-face patient contact, including first responders.”

And Lebanon-area first responders no longer expect to contain the spread of COVID-19 and instead hope to mitigate and treat the virus, according to the city’s fire chief.

“We’re not going to contain COVID-19 at this point,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos told the City Council on Wednesday night.

Christopoulos said the virus is spreading through community transmission and said almost all of the cases in Grafton County are located in Lebanon and Hanover.

“Our focus right now is on ensuring that all of our public safety personnel are equipped with the right protective equipment and fit-tested appropriately,” he said.

As of Thursday, there are 44 confirmed cases in New Hampshire — including nine in Grafton County, up by two — and 22 in Vermont, with a new case involving an Orange County woman in her 60s who is not hospitalized.

Lebanon, through the Upper Valley’s Multi-Agency Coordinating Entity, distributed “limited quantities” of protective equipment to surrounding towns on Wednesday, Christopoulos said.

He added that the fire department, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are working together to develop internal plans for a surge in demand for medical care.

“There are going to be some dramatic times. This is a marathon, this isn’t a sprint,” Christopoulos said, adding he expects the health care system to be handling cases through August.

On that front, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order Thursday freeing up $50 million for hospitals and health care providers.

The money, which will come from New Hampshire’s general fund, will be available in the form of loans and grants.

Hanover asks studentsto stay away

Hanover officials have asked Dartmouth students on spring break not to return, even to off-campus or fraternity housing, for the upcoming spring term.

There are active COVID-19 community transmissions within Hanover and “we want to absolutely minimize the chances of further transmission,” Town Manager Julia Griffin said Thursday in a message to students.

Griffin went on to say that it is “entirely likely” that the state will ultimately order residents to shelter in place for an extended period.

The town does not want to add to its challenges by “reintroducing a large student population into our small community,” she said.

Griffin said she sent the message because of “worrisome off-campus behavior,” including instances where students traveling overseas returned to Hanover with the new coronavirus and came into close contact with others. She added that young adults are least likely to observe social distancing and self-quarantining.

Second Dartmouthstudent tests positive

Griffin’s message comes as Dartmouth announced that a second Dartmouth College student tested for COVID-19 received presumptive positive results for the novel coronavirus.

The student, an undergraduate, was one of three living in off-campus housing to undergo testing, and has self-isolated. A graduate student tested positive on Monday. Another, also a graduate student, tested negative.

Students who were in close contact with the undergraduate who tested positive are self-quarantining off-campus, Dartmouth officials said.

Late Thursday, Dartmouth officials told all employees that they should be working from home by the end of the week unless told to be on campus “to perform necessary duties.” Dartmouth is paying all regular, non-temporary staff their regularly scheduled hourly or base rate of pay through the end of the spring term.

Dartmouth announced earlier this week that students won’t return to campus this spring and that many facilities often open to the general public will be closing.

Students will instead be taking online classes. The college will continue to charge full tuition but is waiving room and board fees.

JCPenney, Kohl’s close stores temporarily

JCPenney, which has a store in West Lebanon, said it will close all its stores temporarily, effective Thursday evening.

All stores and business offices will close until April 2, according to an email from company CEO Jill Soltau. It said customers will be able to continue to shop online through the JCPenney website or its app.

And another major store in the Upper Valley Plaza, Kohl’s, also closed Thursday, part of a nationwide shutdown of the department store chain through April 1. CEO Michelle Gass said associates will receive two calendar weeks of pay. Shoppers can also use the company’s website or app.

Home Depot stores around the country have also curbed their hours, and as of Thursday are all closing daily at 6 p.m. (Opening hours remain unchanged, which in Lebanon and Claremont are 6 a.m. daily, except for 8 a.m. on Sunday).

Home Depot said all hourly full-time associates will receive an additional 80 hours of paid sick or personal time, and part-time hourly associates will receive an additional 40 hours of paid sick or personal time, for the remainder of this year.

Hannaford Supermarkets said that starting Tuesday, it will offer dedicated shopping hours for at-risk people, including those over 60, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesday through Thursday to promote social distancing. Hannaford also said that starting Saturday, its new daily store hours will be 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to allow more time for restocking and sanitizing.

Vermont Law School postpones commencement

Vermont Law School has told graduating students that graduation ceremonies, which had been scheduled for the weekend of May 16, have been postponed.

The South Royalton law school is surveying students to see if a date in early August, after the bar exam, would work. VLS earlier this week said it would have to keep the campus closed through the end of spring term, with students taking classes online.

Norwich town hall restricts access

Tracy Hall in Norwich was restricted to “business-only traffic” on Thursday in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

People are being instructed to call and email the town office, when possible, according to a news release from Police Chief Jennifer Frank. Those who require in-person transactions will be limited to 15 minutes, with the exception of research appointments, which can take up to 30 minutes. Non-essential meetings and events scheduled in the town hall through April 6 also were canceled.

Vermont creates child care form

Essential workers seeking child care in Vermont can now fill out an online form that will connect them to programs that remain open.

The form, developed by the state and nonprofit Let’s Grow Kids, can be found at https://webportalapp.com/webform/essentialworkers.

Families can also call 211 ext. 6 or 1-877-705-9008 to talk to a child care referral specialist.

Essential positions include health care providers, first responders, pharmacy workers and grocery store employees.

A full list of essential positions that qualify for services can be found at https://vem.vermont.gov/essentialpersons.




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