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Upper Valley senior centers screen visitors; Mascoma teachers isolated

  • Chester Dutille, 90, of Lebanon, N.H., and Joan Wilson, 84, of Trent Lakes, Ontario, looks for numbers called on their BINGO cards at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon, on Monday, March 9, 2020. Wilson is visiting Dutille. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/9/2020 10:19:47 PM
Modified: 3/10/2020 2:13:55 PM

WEST LEBANON — Senior centers and other venues for the public are ratcheting up screening and other safety measures as concerns about the new coronavirus continue to grow.

And two teachers in the Mascoma Valley School District entered self-quarantine after learning they may have been exposed at a March 1 church service, school officials said.

Deanna Jones, executive director of The Thompson senior center in Woodstock, said her staff are preparing and freezing “hundreds of meals” for delivery in case more of their clients are required to self-isolate at home.

Jones added that, under guidelines from the Vermont Department of Health, the Thompson front desk now screens all visitors with questions about whether they have been to high-risk areas, whether they have been in contact with affected individuals, and if they have been experiencing respiratory symptoms that might indicate a positive diagnosis of COVID-19. Visitors who answer yes to any of these questions are asked to leave.

She says she is encouraged by the response to the outbreak from state officials and is awaiting further guidelines about holding social events at Thompson.

“(The Vermont Department of Health) is handling things very promptly,” said Jones, adding that, “the communication has been excellent.”

Kathleen Vasconcelos, executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, which helps oversee eight senior centers, said late Monday that one employee is now under quarantine but “has not and is not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.”

“In the normal course of our employee’s duties, and prior to being contacted by the State, our employee had contact with seniors, as do all of our employees, but has exhibited no symptoms,” she said via email.

Vasconcelos also said the Seniors Citizens Council has not reduced services or canceled activities, but “we are planning ahead and are prepared to do so if such action is required to ensure the wellbeing of our clients, volunteers, and staff.” Such plans would include delivering extra meals in advance of a shut-down and checking on Meals on Wheels clients via telephone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people at higher risks for contracting the COVID-19 — including older adults and people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease — stock up on basic food and medical supplies, wash their hands regularly, and avoid crowds as much as possible.

The CDC also recommends that these individuals not get on flights or cruises.

Complicating matters are indications that people who are asymptomatic may still be passing the virus to others.

“Although the science is continuing to evolve, an important point around this recent case is to understand that the transmission of COVID-19 appears to be taking place when individuals are not exhibiting any symptoms. In other words, it can be transmitted unknowingly,” Dr. Joanne Conroy, the CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, said in an email to employees Sunday evening after two more cases in New Hampshire were announced, including one transmitted at a Hope Bible Fellowship church service in West Lebanon.

Conroy also told employees that gatherings at D-H facilities will now be limited to 50 individuals or fewer.

The Rev. Lucia Jackson of the Hartland Congregational Church said in an email on Monday that her church will attempt to limit physical contact between congregants.

“We do have a ‘greet your neighbor’ moment in the service which usually involves a lot of hand-shaking and hugging. We often suggest during an active flu season to greet one another verbally, but not physically. So as we have done in previous years, the suggestion is to greet one another verbally,” she said.

Jackson said the church has no plans to change how they give or receive communion.

New Hampshire state officials are also updating their guidelines for Town Meeting and schools.

In a Monday press release, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for Town Meeting and polling places from the CDC that ask sick individuals to stay home, voters to wash their hands, and poll workers to disinfect frequently-touched surfaces like voting machines.

Upper Valley schools are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

The Mascoma Valley Regional School District late Monday said via a news release that two teachers “have been advised by state health officials to quarantine as a precaution” because they are believed to have come into contact with a person who tested positive for the virus while attending church on March 1.

Neither teacher is symptomatic, and all Mascoma Valley schools are “operating normally, in accordance with public health guidelines,” the release said.

“We are working closely with state and local health officials to ensure we’re taking all the steps necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through our school community,” SAU 62 Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said in the release. “These self-quarantining individuals are doing so out of the utmost level of caution, and we’re closely monitoring this situation.”

A spokesman for the school district, Jordan Mayblum, said the school could not comment on the identities of the two teachers involved.

Separately on Monday, Isabelle confirmed that Eric Ramage — the pastor of Hope Bible Fellowship, the West Lebanon church where a case of COVID-19 was transmitted from a Dartmouth-Hitchcock employee to another person attending the March 1 service — is a volleyball coach at Mascoma High in the fall.

Isabelle said Ramage was at a meeting last week with Mascoma’s athletic director, but it was after school.

“Volleyball is a fall sport so Mr. Ramage is not currently coaching for us,” she said. “At this time, we are following standard guidelines from the DHHS and the CDC. We have not been directly contacted to take any further action at this time.”

Messages left for Ramage were not returned.

As of Monday afternoon, New Hampshire state officials were not recommending that any schools around the state be closed in response to the outbreak.

They were encouraing people to “continue with their everyday activities but take precautions to protect themselves against COVID-19 and the many other viruses circulating in New Hampshire this time of year, including influenza.” State officials also said via email that “individuals have a role in helping protect themselves by staying home when they are sick, washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, and practicing social distancing.”

Rohan Chakravarty can be reached at rchakravarty@vnews.com.




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