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Second DHMC employee tests positive for coronavirus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2020 3:16:06 PM
Modified: 3/4/2020 9:37:47 AM

LEBANON — A second Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center employee has tested “presumptive positive” for COVID-19, Dartmouth-Hitchcock officials said Tuesday.

The second man had “close contact” with the first person to test positive for the novel virus in the state, a DHMC employee who recently traveled to Italy, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release.

Both Grafton County men are in quarantine, and neither had contact with patients, D-H said in a statement Tuesday.

“We are working with NH DHHS to determine close contacts, and they are reaching out to those contacts to establish quarantine and monitoring by (state health officials),” D-H said in its statement.

The first man may have come into contact with others Friday evening when he attended a private event connected to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth at The Engine Room in White River Junction. The DHMC employee went to the event despite “New Hampshire officials’ direction to self-isolate,” a Vermont Department of Health news release said.

DHHS has now issued an “official order of isolation” to the first man, whom health officials have said has a mild form of the disease caused by a strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan city in China in December.

COVID-19 tests were pending for four other individuals in New Hampshire on Tuesday, according to the website of the New Hampshire Department of Health. Tests for three Vermont patients came back negative Tuesday, Vermont health officials said. There have not yet been any confirmed cases in Vermont.

“We expect additional cases may be identified that are related to this investigation,” New Hampshire health officials said in their release.

Also on Tuesday, River Valley Community College canceled classes as a precautionary measure because a Claremont-based instructor’s husband was being tested for COVID-19, according to an email from Claremont City Manager Ed Morris. It was not clear whether the husband who was being tested was linked to the DHMC cases.

RVCC, which has campuses in Claremont, Lebanon and Keene, N.H., is working with DHHS and plans to reopen on Wednesday, Morris wrote in an email to the City Council that was forwarded to the Valley News.

“We closed as a matter of caution to allow us an opportunity to assess the situation and consult with (state health officials),” River Valley said in a statement posted to its website and Facebook page.

Health officials in both states are working to trace contacts of the DHMC employees. Vermont health officials are asking any Vermont resident who was at The Engine Room on Friday night to call the Health Department at 802-863-7240.

“People in this situation — with only minimal possible contact with a case — are still considered to be at low risk for infection, but out of an abundance of caution, the department is seeking contact from anyone in attendance,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in the department’s release.

Dartmouth College officials alerted members of the community in an email Tuesday of the potentially contagious man’s attendance at the Tuck School event.

“At this time, there are no Dartmouth students considered to be close contacts,” said Dr. Lisa Adams and Joshua Keniston, the co-chairs of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Task Force, in the email to the community. Adams and Keniston directed Dartmouth community members with symptoms associated with COVID-19 — such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing — to seek medical care.

The Tuck students who attended the party are deemed to be at “low risk” of developing coronavirus because officials don’t think they had direct contact with the man who tested positive, Tuck spokeswoman Lindsey Walter said in an email.

“No limits were placed on their activities, but out of an abundance of caution, they were asked to follow (New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’) guidelines for self-observation,” Walter said.

Brandon Fox, the Engine Room’s general manager and owner, said he spoke with health officials in both states on Tuesday and also alerted members of his staff who worked at the Tuck event Friday to let them know to contact their health care provider in the event that they begin having symptoms.

Though Fox said health officials told him that there is a “very low risk” of anyone contracting the virus from the event space, he said cleaning crews were at work Tuesday and would return Wednesday. They had cleaned the space after Friday’s event, so Fox said the extra effort was a “precautionary” step.

The Vermont Department of Health on Tuesday said it had “worked with the company to ensure proper cleaning and sanitizing efforts were carried out to prevent spread.”

The virus is primarily believed to be transmitted through person-to-person contact. “Close contact” is defined as being within 6 feet of a person with the disease, who by coughing or sneezing can transmit droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby, according to the D-H educational webpage: www.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/patient-education/coronavirus.html. People not exhibiting symptoms are thought to be less contagious.

It’s possible that the virus also may spread through surfaces if a person who has the virus touches something and then a person without the virus touches the same object and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, the D-H webpage said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

Correction

COVID-19 tests were pending for four other individuals in New Hampshire on Tuesday, according to the website of the New Hampshire Department of Health. An earlier version of this story understated the number.




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