Geisel students monitored after possible exposure to coronavirus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2020 10:15:51 PM
Modified: 3/4/2020 10:19:28 PM

LEBANON — Four Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth students are being monitored by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for COVID-19, the college announced in a community-wide email on Wednesday.

The Geisel students, who are considered “close contacts” of the second Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center employee to have a “presumptive positive” test for the virus, have been self-quarantined and Dartmouth is working with the students to find suitable housing, according to the email from Dr. Lisa Adams and Joshua Keniston, co-chairs of the Dartmouth COVID-19 Task Force.

The students are the first that the college had indicated are required to isolate themselves in the Upper Valley due to possible exposure to a strain of coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan city in China in December.

The first DHMC employee to test positive for COVID-19 went to an invitation-only Tuck School of Business event last Friday in White River Junction attended by more than 100 people, according to New Hampshire State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan. He did so before he tested positive, but after being asked to self-isolate, Chan said.

The Tuck students who attended the party are not believed to have had direct contact with the infected man, Adams and Keniston said. As a precaution, they are being asked to practice “self-observation” and monitor themselves for symptoms, but “no limits were placed on their activities,” the Dartmouth email said.

The infected man who attended the Tuck party had recently returned from Italy, one of the hotspots of the disease caused by a strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan city in China in December.

State officials have since issued an official order of isolation to the man, the first to test positive for COVID-19 in New Hampshire. Health officials are asking “a handful of people” who attended the party at the Engine Room and had close contact with the man to self-isolate for 14 days, Chan said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

The “vast majority” of the dozens in attendance are considered low risk of developing the illness, which is characterized by a fever and respiratory symptoms such as a cough, Chan said.

The state’s public health nurses began monitoring the man “late” on Friday, Chan said.He then was tested for the flu and other common viruses over the weekend. After those tests came back negative, and the state had set up its laboratory to test for the coronavirus, he was tested for it and the test came back positive on Monday morning.

The test still needs to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but officials began reaching out to his contacts to determine who else he might have transmitted the virus to.

The second “presumptive positive,” which officials announced on Tuesday, is another DHMC employee who is a “close contact” of the first. Both men are self-isolating at home.

“As with the first patient identified on Monday, March 2, we have determined that this second patient has had no contact with patients,” D-H said in a statement on Tuesday.

There were seven people being tested in New Hampshire as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. Ten other people have tested negative.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Vermont Department of Health had not reported any positive cases of coronavirus. There were three negative tests on Tuesday.

Nursing home leaders in the Upper Valley on Wednesday said they are preparing for the potential arrival of the coronavirus in their facilities much as they would for the flu.

“We deal with this every year,” said Woodlawn Care Center Administrator Chris Martin. “The flu kills people every year.”

Martin said his Newport facility, which has 53 residents, has signs up asking visitors not to come in if they’re sick.

But because older people and people with other medical conditions seem to be at a greater risk of developing a serious form of the illness associated with COVID-19, Martin said he was working with his staff to review plans for isolation and to inventory supplies that might be hard to replace due to heavy demand worldwide. While the facility has sufficient protective gear such as respirators on hand now, Martin said he was concerned that if he needs more he might run into difficulties.

“It’s worrisome,” Martin said of the risk of the disease. “The average age of our residents is 88.”

In the event of an outbreak, Martin said, the facility might halt community dining and stop getting together for activities. He also said he’s talked about encouraging families to be in touch with residents through video technology such as Skype rather than in-person visits.

Kendal at Hanover has canceled events where groups from the broader community would come to Kendal to participate, including Osher at Dartmouth classes, said Jeffrey Roosevelt, Kendal’s director of public relations and marketing.

“All of our other services continue as normal, but we continue to monitor the situation closely,” Roosevelt said in an email.

Sullivan County Manager Derek Ferland said he wanted to prevent an “unnecessary level of concern.” The county operates a nursing home in Unity.

He said county staff are “doing the standard things that we would do to prevent any other infectious disease.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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