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COVID-19 news for Wednesday: Dartmouth-Hitchcock involved in key clinical trials; National Guard setting up at Dartmouth gym

  • Members of the New Hampshire National Guard, along with Hanover Fire Chief Martin McMillan, second from left, measure space in West Gym as they prepare to convert it into a “clinical flex area” at the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H., on April 1, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News – Jennifer Hauck

  • Kevin McPhee Sr., right, and Alex Beloin, left, of the Vermont Agency of Transportation count vehicles and record the states on their license plates as they enter from New Hampshire on Interstate 89 in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The count will continue 24 hours a day. Stephanie Brackin, of the Vermont COVID-19 Joint Information Center said the count is an effort to predict the state’s future healthcare needs. Workers are not capturing license plate numbers, she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley NEws — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2020 9:56:29 AM
Modified: 4/1/2020 9:05:18 PM

LEBANON — Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock are participating in fast-moving clinical trials to see if the antiviral medicine known as remdesivir can be used to treat people with COVID-19.

The D-H researchers are involved in two “phase 3 therapeutic studies” of the drug, which was originally used to treat the West African Ebola virus starting in 2013, according to a news release from the Lebanon-based health system.

The D-H researchers comprise one of about 97 clinical sites working on the remdesivir trials, seeing how the drug works on patients with either moderate or severe cases of COVID-19. The drug is intended to keep the potentially lethal disease from progressing, the news release said.

Some 25 nurses who have been fitted with personal protective equipment are helping to manage the trial of inpatients at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where the drug is being administered intravenously, according to Dr. Richard Zuckerman, an infectious disease and international health expert at D-H helping to lead the local research. The studies are intended to assess both the safety and effectiveness of the drug and dosages.

Potential test participants are being screened among patients who are either being admitted or are now at D-H, the release said. More information can be found at a website linked to Gilead, the California-based biotechnology company that developed remdesivir.

NH National Guard at West Gym

Members of the New Hampshire National Guard were at West Gym at Dartmouth College on Wednesday, measuring the space as they prepare to convert it into a “clinical flex area.” It is one of at least eight sites around the state likely to handle an overflow of cases from an expected surge of COVID-19 cases.

Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos, who has been involved in the search for an Upper Valley site, said organizers were still “working on some logistics with a college building” before any setup would take place.

“We are looking at between 100-125 beds initially based on conversations with DHMC. Staffing will largely be clinical and non-clinical volunteers and we are working on this resource now,” he said via email.

The site would start to take in patients if the hospital system was nearing surge capacity and asked for the additional beds, he said.

Vermont reviewing senior-living facilities

Vermont reported another 28 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, for a total of 321. Health Commissioner Mark Levine said up to 12% of people tested are found to have been infected, and that the state saw three more deaths, for a total of 16. The people who died include a patient at Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans and another at Burlington Health and Rehab.

In a news conference with Gov. Phil Scott, Levine said the state has also sent “outbreak response teams” to eight facilities, mostly for seniors, where cases have been prevalent. Most were in the Chittenden County area, and none in the Upper Valley, but Levine said, “This is something that we are going to be seeing as an increasing trend.”

He said more expansive testing is a priority, and warned that there is increasing evidence people are transmitting the virus in the 48 hours before they, themselves, even show symptoms, reinforcing the importance of social distancing.

“If you are only socially distancing yourself from people who don’t look so good or may be coughing, that’s really not what the purpose is,” Levine said. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may change its guidance and ask most people, not just providers, to wear masks.

VTrans workers count out-of-state license plates

Vermont has also started to count the number of out-of-state license plates entering the state on numerous entry points, including on Interstate 89 in Hartford on Wednesday.

Scott previously asked out-of-staters from New York and other hotspots to self-quarantine, and said on Wednesday that the license-plate count was just “data collection,” at least for now.

“We will act accordingly, depending on what we see,” Scott said.

Stephanie Brackin, a spokeswoman for Vermont’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center, said, “It is a data collection effort to predict future health care needs of Vermont. DMV and VTrans are counting total cars and keeping a count of where the cars are from — not capturing plate numbers, just the state of registration.”

NH aids domestic violence victims

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued two emergency orders Wednesday freeing up additional state aid to the victims of domestic, sexual and child abuse.

During a news conference in Concord, the governor announced the creation of an Emergency Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Relief Fund that will contain $600,000 for direct aid to victims and crisis centers.

Money will be available to help victims pay for groceries, health products, rent and hotel stays, he said. The fund also will pay out grants to help crisis centers pay for operations.

A separate $2 million fund will help vulnerable children and the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

Sununu announced that the state’s family violence prevention specialists are being given additional hours and efforts are underway to hire new licensed drug and alcohol councilors to assist families.

“We know that calls reporting domestic violence to law enforcement are down during this pandemic. We know that reporting of child abuse is down,” he said. “What is not down is the actual instances of (abuse).”

Those seeking help can call the New Hampshire’s 24/7 domestic violence hotline at 1-866-644-3574, while the sexual assault hotline is 1-800-277-5570. The hotline to report child abuse is 1-800-894-5533.

Sununu also issued an order easing various statutory requirements on municipalities, including how often planning boards have to meet and whether public hearings have to be reheld if a Town Meeting is postponed. He also said he was considering allowing cities and towns to offer interest and penalty “tax holidays” for property taxpayers who are late on their payments because of the outbreak’s economic fallout.

COVID-19 totals in the Twin State

State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan said New Hampshire has recorded 415 COVID-19 cases, about 6.5% of those tested.

He said 59 people, or 15% of known COVID cases, are hospitalized.

The fourth New Hampshire death, which officials announced on Wednesday, was a Sullivan County woman over 60 who had underlying medical conditions.

Vermont has 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and another 45 under investigation for the disease.

NH jury trials postponed

Court officials in New Hampshire have canceled all criminal or civil jury trials until at least May 4.

Anyone ordered to report for jury duty before then is off the hook, at least for now, and it’s likely that no jury trials will be held until early June.

Plaintiffs and defendants will receive notice of when their trail is to be rescheduled.

AT buses still running

Advance Transit buses continue to run in the Upper Valley, though ridership is down because of the stay-at-home orders issued to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“As of today we have no plans to reduce service. We are taking this one day at a time,” AT Executive Director Van Chesnut said by email on Tuesday. “We are still running for people that need us to meet their essential needs. More distance between people on buses during COVID makes transit safer.”

Support sought for Dartmouth students

Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon has written alumni saying about 200 students who were unable to return home are still on campus. Some need financial help, and Dartmouth also anticipates a growing need for financial aid from other students because of the economic impact from the pandemic.

As a result, Dartmouth has created an “emergency student relief fund” and hopes to raise $500,000 from alumni and other supporters for critical needs in the months to come and also create a $4.5 million endowment for the program to meet similar requests down the road.

Windsor High group cancels Alumni Day

The Windsor High School Alumni Association has canceled its planned 2020 Alumni Weekend activities, including the parade, golf tournament, meet and greet, and 5K run.

Plans for a dual-celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021 are in place for next year, according to a notice from Traci Smiley, the parade chairwoman and Alumni Association vice president.

Retailer boosts pay for store clerks

Ocean State Job Lot, which is still seeing business for its household supplies and food, told customers on Wednesday it is boosting the pay for store associates by $2 an hour, though it is also asking customers to pay a surcharge.

Perlman said customers may decline to pay the 2% surcharge if they choose. New Hampshire’s state-run liquor outlets boosted pay for its clerks by 10% on Tuesday.

Ocean State is also offering a shopping hour for customers at higher risk, including people 60 and over, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 9 a.m.

NHIAA plans spring practices; VPA waiting

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is still holding out hope for the high school spring sports season.

The NHIAA announced Tuesday that the first day for spring teams to practice is May 4 and the first date to play is May 13. May 4 is also the day students are scheduled to end online learning and return to school.

If the governor’s office decided to change that return-to-school date, the NHIAA will modify its start date accordingly.

The NHIAA canceled the end of the winter high school season before it was fully completed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some winter sports had finished their tournaments. For those that had not completed their seasons, the NHIAA awarded championships based the portions of the tournament that had been completed or on the regular-season standings.

The Vermont Principals Association said April 30 has been set as the final date by which a decision needs to be made about the spring season. If the need for social distancing extends into May, the VPA said the spring season would be canceled. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has already said students won’t return to school this spring.

News staff writer Tim Camerato and the Concord Monitor contributed to this report.

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