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COVID-19 updates for Monday, March 23: First death reported in NH; Dartmouth-Hitchcock to test onsite

VALLEY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Published: 3/23/2020 9:18:05 AM
Modified: 3/23/2020 9:12:50 PM

New Hampshire has reported its first death from the new coronavirus. A Hillsborough County man who was over 60 and had underlying health conditions has died of the disease, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said at a news conference Monday.

New Hampshire has now had 101 total cases, an additional 23 since Sunday, and that 11 people are hospitalized, Chan said.

Meanwhile, Vermont announced three more deaths, all over the weekend, and all related to the disease cluster at the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center, according to Dr. Mark Levine, the Vermont Health commissioner.

Levine said 14 residents and staff members at the Burlington nursing home have thus far tested positive for COVID-19.

In Vermont, there have been a total of 75 positive tests and five deaths.

“As we have increased our testing capacity, we are having more positive tests,” Levine said. “That should not be a surprise to anyone.”

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed an order telling businesses and nonprofits to implement telecommuting or other work-from-home measures “to the maximum extent possible” by 8 p.m. Monday and also said further restrictions were pending.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed executive orders making it easier for out-of-state pharmacies and health-care providers to provide medications and telehealth services in the state and also told reporters he, Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker are trying to take a “regional approach” to encourage social distancing, rather than an all-out shelter in place command.

“We’re on the same page as those other states,” Sununu said.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock testing onsite for coronavirus

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said Monday it now can test for the novel coronavirus onsite, a development that could expand and speed up testing in the Upper Valley.

But for now, because of “ongoing shortages of test collection supplies and personal protective equipment” such as masks, DHMC is limiting its testing to hospitalized patients within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system and to health-care workers, the Lebanon-based health system said in a news release Monday morning.

Once fully in place over the next 10 days, the turnaround time for test results could be 24 hours or less.

“Our testing capability continues to grow and evolve, and being able to test here at DHMC allows us to more rapidly screen patients and make best use of our resources,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health Chief Clinical Officer Edward Merrens said in the release. “We also believe the ability to test here will help relieve pressure on the New Hampshire state laboratory, enabling the state to assist other hospitals. Our priority remains to care for our sickest patients and support those who care for them.”

In a news conference Monday, Merrens said “several hundred” tests have been conducted at DHMC already.

They have 2,000 tests available and the ability to get about 3,000 more, he said.

“Anyone who presents to the hospital and needs a test, gets a test,” he said.

But given the limited supplies for testing, Merrens said, the number of positives being reported is probably a fraction of true positives, and do not reflect the actual prevalence of the disease in the community.

In a “perfect world,” Merrens said, they’d like to sample everyone with a cold symptom to get a true sense of how widespread the disease is.

“We don’t have that capability,” he said, so they are “trying to focus on testing in situations where we can make an intervention.”

Anyone with symptoms should stay at home until the symptoms pass or worsen, in which case they should contact a medical provider, he said.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health also said that more than 1,500 members of its staff have now been trained in the proper wearing and safe use of masks and other protective equipment, which “greatly” expands the number of people who can help treat the surge of COVID-19 patients expected to come to hospitals in the coming weeks.

Emergency management officials looking for overflow site

Emergency management officials in the Upper Valley are making plans for a makeshift facility that could handle an expected surge of patients if Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital and other hospitals become overburdened.

Past plans for a major train accident, for instance, have included use of the Leverone Field House on the Dartmouth College campus, but other sites closer to the Route 120 corridor also are being considered.

“At this point we are reviewing our medical surge capacity with the hospitals and the state. Our past plans identified Leverone, but we are potentially shifting to a different facility to be closer to DHMC & APD,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said via email Friday. He said Monday that city and emergency officials are currently assessing sites and resources with state officials.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said at the Concord news conference on Monday that the state expects to have at least eight “clinical flex areas” for hospital beds, using buildings that are currently vacant right now because of COVID-related closings, and that one has already been identified at Southern New Hampshire University.

Whether the sites handle COVID-19 patients or take existing patients from area hospitals will be up to key providers in each region, Sununu said.

“Whatever the beds they may expand into are, they’ll have the option to figure out how best to utilize those beds,” he said.

Dartmouth College officials signaled they are willing to make facilities available as needed.

“We are in active conversations with all of our community partners about how best to support the region and are ready and willing to assist,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said.

The University of Vermont Medical Center last week set up a “pop-up” testing site at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, Vt., according to VtDigger.

Vermont offers map of free Wi-Fi

The Vermont Department of Public Service has released an interactive map showing Wi-Fi hotspots around the state where Vermonters can connect to publicly available internet service during the COVID-19 outbreak, when students and many employees are working from home.

The map also includes information about how users can access the Wi-Fi from outside the building, staying in a parked vehicle to maintain social distancing practices.

The map can be found at https://publicservice.vermont.gov/announcements/public-wifi-hotspots-vermont and includes several libraries and state office buildings around the Upper Valley.

Dartmouth College classes to be pass-fail

Thousands of Dartmouth College undergraduates who will be taking classes online only this spring term because of the COVID-19 outbreak got some good news Monday morning. All of the classes will be graded on a “credit/no credit” basis, as opposed to letter grades, according to an email from Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble.

Helble said factors in the decision included the challenges for students who are ill, helping family members, don’t have ready access to library materials and high-speed bandwidth or are trying to participate in “synchronous discussions from a range of time zones.”

“While some students may thrive in this distance-learning scenario, we decided that uniform grading, for this term only, was the fairest way to support all of our undergraduate students, and would give our faculty time to focus on the content of their coursework while also providing the opportunity to develop assessments that can be used if remote learning continues into summer term,” Helble’s email said.

Dartmouth also suspended its longstanding requirement that students who are graduating this June must first pass a swim test. Most students take such tests early in their college career.

Vt. eases tax deadlines

The state of Vermont waived some looming tax deadlines to help the struggling hospitality industry.

Gov. Phil Scott has asked the Tax Department to allow hotels and restaurants to pay the meals and rooms tax after upcoming deadlines without any penalty or interest due for late submissions. In addition, penalties for late payment of the sales and use tax also are being temporarily lifted.

In addition, Vermont’s income tax filing deadline has been pushed back from April 15 to July 15, including the homestead declaration and property tax claims forms.

Taxpayers who expect a refund, of course, still can file now, and claims are being processed, officials said.

West Central service update

Lebanon-based West Central Behavioral Health said its offices remain open at this time, but staffing is reduced as people are encouraged to work from home.

Clients are being asked to consult with their clinician about talking via phone or video conferencing.

The agency wants to minimize face-to-face contact and use telehealth and the telephone to deliver services whenever possible during the outbreak. Anyone needing help from its emergency services crisis team can call 1-800-564-2578.

WIC benefits by phone

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said the state’s Women, Infants, and Children program has received federal permission to conduct all appointments by phone because of the need for social distancing.

That means people applying for assistance or with follow-up visits can complete them by phone.

In the Lebanon area, call 1-800-578-2050 for more information. Residents in the Claremont area should call 1-800-529-0005.

CCBA extends closing

The Lebanon-based CCBA has extended its closing for the Witherell Recreation Center beyond March 30 and the CCBA Preschool beyond April 6.

“We will keep you posted about our reopening date as soon as we know it,” CCBA Executive Director Kerry Artman said in an email on Monday to members.

In addition, the CCBA is partnering with the American Red Cross to hold blood drives in its game room area Wednesday and on April 8.

Mascoma clinic appeals for financial donations

The nonprofit Mascoma Community Health Center says the COVID-19 outbreak is costing it as much as $21,000 in lost revenue a month because of fewer patient visits and restrictions on non-essential dental care.

The Canaan-based clinic, which hopes to become a federally qualified health center, had been seeing patient visits increase by 10% a month in the three months before the crisis, including a total of 808 in February, but said that visits this month are down 8% “due to social separation and avoidance of unnecessary contacts.”

For more information or to help donate, call 603-523-4343.

SoRo Market to switch to pickup only

The South Royalton Market said it will close the store to the general public starting on Tuesday but is moving to a curbside pickup of grocery orders.

Customers are being asked to email a shopping list, along with their name and phone number, to soromarket@gmail.com, or to call it in at 802-763-2400, but email is preferred. Once the order is assembled (same-day orders are not guaranteed), the store will call with a total bill, and customers are to pay with a credit card.

“We appreciate your patience as we try to keep our staff and our customers safe, while still having nourishing food available,” market general manager Adam Smith said in a Facebook post.

Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr contributed to this report.




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