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COVID-19: NH will offer shot to teachers; Dartmouth says outbreak may be linked to virus variant

Staff and wire reports
Published: 3/4/2021 11:26:03 AM
Modified: 3/4/2021 10:03:21 PM

CONCORD — Vaccinations will begin late next week for New Hampshire teachers and other school staff, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.

Phase 2a of the state’s vaccination plan includes roughly 50,000 teachers, other school employees and child care workers, while phase 2b includes anyone age 50 and older. The plan always has called for completing those phases between March and May, though meeting that target initially appeared unlikely given the limited supply of vaccine available.

But with the addition of a third vaccine and increased distribution, regional public health networks will begin overseeing clinics for school districts around the state March 12.

On March 17, teachers and others in group 2a will be able to schedule appointments at existing public sites.

And on March 22, those in group 2b can start scheduling their shots.

“It’s not linear,” Sununu said. “One doesn’t close and one opens. They all kind of mesh into one another because we’re simply going so fast.”

Sununu, a Republican, has faced criticism for not including teachers in the first wave of vaccinations, which included health care workers, nursing home residents, people age 65 and older and those with multiple medical conditions. The Biden administration has urged states to ensure teachers get at least their first doses by the end of March, but Sununu said that didn’t influence the timeline outlined Thursday.

“They were next in line, so we’re just going right to it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state has scheduled 12,000 appointments for a mass vaccination clinic being held this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Those appointments mostly went to people in phase 1 whose initial appointments had been scheduled as late as April.

College suspects variant

Dartmouth College officials believe the campus might be seeing the effects of a more infectious variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 in its ongoing outbreak.

It’s “highly likely” that the college’s outbreak — which stood at 146 active cases on Thursday — has been driven by a more transmissible variant, probably the B.1.1.7 virus that originated in the United Kingdom, Dr. Lisa Adams, co-chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 task force, said during a virtual community conversation on Wednesday with Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble and other college officials.

The spread of the outbreak appears to have slowed in recent days, Helble said. If that trend continues, restrictions — including holding all classes online, and requiring students to stay on campus and eat grab-and-go meals only — may soon be lifted in steps, he said. Curbing the outbreak also will be key to starting spring term as scheduled on March 29, officials said.

“As long as we stay on the path that we are on, we’re looking OK for spring move-in, but if for whatever reason this outbreak goes on longer and if we are still supporting a large number of people in quarantine and isolation, as we go into spring break, we may have to revisit that,” said Josh Keniston, who co-chairs the task force with Adams.

More than 305 people at Dartmouth were either in quarantine or isolation on Thursday.

While the B.1.1.7 variant has not been detected in samples collected on campus, state health officials said it was detected in New Hampshire last month. It has been in the U.S. at least since early January and because it is more transmissible, epidemiologists have been predicting this would become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March, Adams said.

Additionally, Adams said the strain of the virus on campus currently appears to have moved from person to person quickly, which “suggests that this is a virus with a higher transmission rate.”

College officials are working with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to test samples to determine whether they are correct in their hypothesis of which form of the virus is present, Adams said.

If it turns out the virus variant is present, the college’s recommendations in terms of COVID-19 safety protocols would remain the same, she said. People would continue to be asked to wear masks when around others, practice physical distancing and avoid gathering in groups.

Dartmouth Health Services Director Mark Reed said his team has been monitoring and supporting students who have tested positive. Most students have a mild form of the illness, while some have more moderate disease, he said during Wednesday’s community conversation. None have had to be hospitalized.

In addition to helping students manage their physical health, Reed said his team also has been busy helping students navigate the mental health challenges of COVID-19 including the isolation and loneliness associated with being in quarantine. Reed noted that in the midst of Dartmouth’s pandemic-related hiring freeze, the college is increasing the number of mental health clinicians on the Health Services’ staff by 50%, going from 10 to 15.

“It’s a quite a diverse staff that’s doing more outreach than ever and figuring out ways to connect with people both locally but also to support our students who are away from campus,” Reed said.

Helble said officials would announce on Friday whether the college would begin lifting restrictions.

Lebanon nursing home has high shot rate

LEBANON — An Old Etna Road nursing home has vaccinated nearly all of its residents and the majority of its staff against COVID-19, it said in a Facebook post.

At Genesis Healthcare’s Lebanon Center, 98% of residents and 74% of staff members have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the post said. This compares favorably with a national median of 77.8% for long-term care facility residents and 37.5% for staff who received at least one vaccine dose, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the first month of the CDC Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program.

VA to host walk-in clinic for veterans

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. — A Friday walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Chittenden County is open to veterans of all ages with pre-existing conditions and those who are essential workers, as defined by the CDC, according to a VA spokeswoman.

Outside of this clinic, the White River Junction VA is vaccinating veterans who are 55 and older, as well as essential workers and those with certain medical conditions.

Friday’s clinic is slated to take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Champlain Valley Exposition, Gate B, 105 Pearl Street in Essex Junction, Vt. Second doses of the Moderna vaccine will be administered at the same location on April 2.

To participate, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care. Veterans can do so by calling 802-295-9363 ext. 4004 or 5118. The clinic is not open to people who have had other vaccines within the past two weeks or plan to in the next six weeks, or those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three months. It’s not recommended for people who have had an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine.

Veterans can sign up for vaccine updates online at:

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