COVID-19 updates, March 18: Valley Regional reports inpatient case; D-H asks for supplies

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2020 10:25:40 AM
Modified: 3/18/2020 8:13:09 PM

Here are the latest developments for our region in the COVID-19 outbreak:

Claremont hospital reports patient

Valley Regional Hospital officials on Wednesday morning said they had detected their first case of COVID-19 in an inpatient.

Valley Regional interim CEO Deanna Howard said in a phone interview that the patient there has been in isolation since entering the hospital and that clinicians opted to test the patient out of an “abundance of  caution.” 

She declined to provide details about the patient’s status and gender. She didn’t know how the patient might have contracted COVID-19, the respiratory disease first identified late last year in Wuhan, China.

This is the first case identified in Sullivan County. Late Wednesday, New Hampshire health officials said another 13 new positive test results had been found, bringing the state total to 39.

The new cases all involve adults, and include four in the city of Manchester, three people in Rockingham County, three in Carroll County, two in Belknap County, and one in Merrimack County. To date, seven cases have been found in Grafton County. New Hampshire officials said two patients across the state are hospitalized and are in stable condition, while the rest are isolating at home.

Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, a woman in her 70s from Windsor County in Vermont is being treated at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, according to Ben Truman, a spokesman for the Vermont Department of Health. She was one of two new cases in Vermont residents that health officials announced on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 19 people had tested positive in Vermont. The Vermont Health Department said it will continue to accept all specimens submitted by health care providers for testing, but because testing resources are “currently limited,” priority will go to “health care workers who are symptomatic” and patients who are hospitalized.

Valley Regional, along with other hospitals including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health members, are now barring most visitors from entering their buildings in order to reduce the risk of transmission to patients and staff. “We still have to take care of other patients as well,” Howard said.

Valley Regional began outdoor testing of pre-screened patients near its urgent care center on Wednesday morning. As testing ramps up, Howard said she expects to see more positive cases.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock issues call for equipment donations

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health asked community members to donate personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, isolation gowns, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Donations can be dropped off at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Service Center building at 52 LaBombard Road North in Lebanon from 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekends.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health facilities have already made strategic adjustments to best utilize our supplies but as this situation gains momentum we will need to address our depleting stock,” D-H CEO Joanne Conroy said in a statement on Wednesday. “No donation is too small.”

For more information, contact Dave Coombs, D-H Supply Chain Manager, at 603-650-4217.

Advance Transit driver tests positive

An Advance Transit employee who last week drove for the nonprofit's Access AT service has tested positive for COVID-19, the organization said. The driver is now under quarantine.

Access AT is a shared-ride, curb-to-curb ADA paratransit service for people who are unable, because of a disability, to use AT’s fixed-route buses.

State officials notified AT of the positive results and requested contact information for customers or employees who may have ridden the specialized bus or been at the nonprofit’s headquarters, AT Executive Director Van Chesnut said in a statement.

“There was limited exposure and we were able to identify anyone who was possibly exposed,” he said in a phone interview.

Access AT is a shared-ride, curb-to-curb ADA paratransit service for people who are unable, because of a disability, to use AT’s fixed-route buses.

Those who may have come into close contact with the driver are being contacted by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, he said.

The company continues to operate busses throughout the Upper Valley. Busses, including the one the employee was driving, are sanitized each evening, Chesnut said.

Separately, the Randolph-based Stagecoach on Wednesday asked passengers to avoid riding the bus if possible in order to save the available seats for nurses, doctors, child care workers, first responders, transit workers and those with no other transportation options. Stagecoach, which operates in Orange and Northern Windsor counties, also said that it is operating fare-free, sanitizing its buses and encouraging passengers and drivers to follow safe hygiene guidelines. 

Lebanon schools offering meals

Lebanon parents are being told to pick up materials their children will need to complete work remotely when those offerings start on Monday. Pickup times will run from noon to 3 p.m. on Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon on Friday. At the Mount Lebanon School, for instance, material will be handed out through separate windows marked with each grade level.

Starting on Thursday, breakfast and lunch meals will be available at no charge to students. Bagged meals of breakfast/lunch can be picked up at the SAU office or Hanover Street School from 10 a.m. to noon through Monday. Starting on Tuesday, meals will be delivered to bus stops for families who sign up via this link

States increase support for unemployed

The Vermont Department of Labor is tripling the number of staff processing unemployment claims and will offer an online application after people attempting to reach the state’s call center reported backlogs and jammed lines earlier this week.

Vermont also is expanding benefits for those temporarily laid off, removing the work-search requirement for those with a return-to-work date and “taking steps to shorten the time it takes for benefits to be issued,” according to a news released issued Wednesday.

People wishing to file unemployment claims can call 1-877-214-3330. If that number is busy, they are encouraged to try calling 1-888-807-7072.

An online application can be found at Vermont.gov under “Unemployment Insurance Benefits.”

Seven Days reported on Tuesday that people temporarily or permanently laid off overwhelmed the state’s unemployment call center. At the time, state officials acknowledged the center was understaffed and pledged to fix issues.

On Tuesday, New Hampshire expanded its unemployment eligibility requirements and announced that people seeking benefits can go to www.nhes.nh.gov and click on the link “File a Claim for Benefits” to begin the application process, or call 603-271-7700.

State officials said they would address staffing as needed. New Hampshire Employment Security Deputy Commissioner Richard Lavers said on Tuesday that the state unemployment trust fund is in “solid shape” with a balance of $300 million. By comparison, he said, the fund had about $270 million at the start of the 2008 recession.

“That being said, we are hopeful that the federal government will take the action that they have been discussing and that we will be able to see some version of a disaster unemployment assistance program,” Lavers told assembled reporters during a press conference in Concord.

He declined to say how many people are expected to apply for benefits under the new orders. However, about 4,000 people filed new claims every week during the height of the recession more than a decade ago, with between 35,000 and 40,000 filing continued claims.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, New Hampshire Employment Security was processing about 500 new unemployment claims each week, and about 4,000 people were filing continued claims, he said.

Child care centers closed with some exceptions

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott directed childcare centers across the state to close on Tuesday, but encouraged continued limited operation to provide care for the children of workers considered essential to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. 

“Essential” people include doctors, nurses and other health care workers; as well as criminal justice personnel; public health employees; firefighters; Vermont National Guard personnel called to duty for this response; other first responders and state employees working to address the crisis; as well as those providing the care for the children of the other workers.

Food stores offer special shopping hours for those at high-risk

The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society began offering a special hour of shopping at the start of each business day for customers who may be at highest risk of contracting the new coronavirus, or their surrogates who are shopping for them.

Starting on Wednesday, the Co-op Foodstores in Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction opened their doors at 7 a.m. to adults 60 and over, people with underlying or chronic medical conditions and pregnant or breastfeeding women. The Co-op appealed to other shoppers to shop after 8 a.m. “so that our stor es are as safe as possible for our most vulnerable shoppers.”

Also on Wednesday, the Co-op began offering prepared food pre-packaged and for take-out only at all four of its stores, including on Lyme Road, since cafe seating areas were closed.

Price Chopper said it is again adjusting hours, closing its all its stores at 10 p.m. and reopening at 7 a.m. to help restock shelves and clean. Price Chopper also said all stores will be open “exclusively to seniors” between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. beginning Thursday.

Shaw’s Supermarkets said effective Wednesday, all stores will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and that at-risk shoppers have reserved time from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And Market Basket said it is now offering “senior shopping hours” for those 60 and over on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.

NH DMV changes

The New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles said it is moving to phone and online services starting Thursday, with limited, appointment-only services starting on Monday to promote social distancing.

Walk-in operations at all locations will “pause” on Thursday and Friday, the DMV said. Starting Monday, the limited walk-in services will be offered at five locations, including the Newport branch. Customers can call (603) 227-4000, starting on Friday, to schedule an appointment. Online driver license renewal, ID renewals, and online ticket pay are available at www.nh.gov/dmv. All driver license road exams are canceled until April 3.

Telehealth expands

As health care providers are encouraging those who don’t need to be seen in person to stay away from medical clinics, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order allowing for the temporary expansion of access to telehealth services, including visits with providers by video chat, by phone or other digital means of communication.

The order requires that rates of reimbursement for services provided via telehealth be equivalent to those provided through traditional in-person visits. 

New Hampshire allows liquor to go

New Hampshire restaurants and bars can offer takeout and delivery of beer and wine, under an emergency order signed by Sununu on Wednesday.

Businesses with both a restaurant and liquor license are allowed to deliver alcohol between 6 a.m. and 11:45 p.m., under the order.

However, beer and wine deliveries must be accompanied by food, and cannot be delivered to colleges, schools or public playgrounds and parks. The order will expire on April 6.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation said it will temporarily stop cracking down on retailers or redemption centers who don’t redeem beverage containers under Vermont’s bottle-recycling law. The state said it is doing so to “to reduce unnecessary person-to-person contact and possible virus transmission” and also give grocers more opportunity to restock food shelves.

DEC said Vermonters can delay redeeming bottles or cans or put them in their regular “blue bin” recycling, with unclaimed deposits benefiting the Vermont Clean Water Fund.

White River Junction free clinic closes 

Good Neighbor Health and Red Logan Dental Clinics, which provide care to the uninsured in White River Junction, are closed for inpatient visits for the next two months, according to a Listserv post. 

Staff will return phone calls Monday through Friday, so those with questions or urgent needs such as prescription refills should call the clinic at (802) 295-1868 and leave a message. 

The clinic’s nurse case manager will provide telephone triage and, if necessary, direct patients who may have COVID-19 to the appropriate organization for next steps.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213. Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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