By NANCY WEST,
CONCORD – The first man who tested positive for COVID-19 in New Hampshire and ignored a voluntary home quarantine is now under orders to stay home in Grafton County and is being monitored daily to make sure he does, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.
Chan said the state has issued a mandatory order of isolation under RSA 141 C-11 and the man, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center employee in Lebanon, is being monitored by phone daily by public health nurses to make sure he doesn’t violate quarantine again. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new 2019 coronavirus.
“We have the power to require someone to isolate if they are symptomatic, the same as with other contagious illnesses such as tuberculosis, mumps and measles if they are symptomatic and a potential danger to public health,” Chan said.
Chan said if people refuse to abide by an order of isolation, officials can involve law enforcement. The patient also has the right to challenge the order in Superior Court, Chan said, but that hasn’t occurred in this case.
The announcement of a mandatory isolation order was made Tuesday, the same time officials said a second Grafton County man who had been in close proximity with the first patient had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state lab. He is self-isolating at home.
Both cases have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm so they are now considered presumptive cases until then. The identities of the men have not been released because of privacy laws, officials said.
Chan wouldn’t say where the first patient went when he violated the self-isolation, but public health officials in Vermont issued a news release that said the first patient went to an invitation-only event in White River Junction, Vt. on Friday, Feb. 28.
Vermont health officials said that in addition to the contact tracing being conducted in collaboration with New Hampshire, Vermont officials are also calling for people to self-identify to support this work.
“While under New Hampshire officials’ direction to self-isolate, the individual attended a private, invitation-only function at the Engine Room in White River Junction on the evening of Friday, Feb. 28. Upon learning of this situation, the Vermont Health Department worked with the company to ensure proper cleaning and sanitizing efforts were carried out to prevent spread,” the release stated.
Vermont health officials are asking any Vermont resident who was at the Engine Room on the evening of Feb. 28 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,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD.
Chan said the first patient in New Hampshire was tested for other viruses over the weekend but the state lab was only ready on Monday to test for COVID-19 because of quality control procedures that had to be undergone first.
Chan said 12 people have now been tested for COVID-19 in the state lab and only the two were positive.
He said the state is reaching out to all individuals the two men had contact with.
In New Hampshire the state, hospitals, schools, nursing homes and others are working to make sure they are taking the proper precautions. Several schools have asked students returning from travel to Italy to stay home for two weeks.
The North Country Healthcare partners have taken precautions to protect patients, providers, staff, volunteers, and guests from COVID-19, according to a news release.
• Activating its Incident Management Team to coordinate its public health response with emergency services, homeland security officials, and other public health partners • Identifying and investigating people with suspected COVID-19 and their close contacts • Preparing and shipping specimens to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) for testing while simultaneously working with CDCP to implement the testing locally in the NH Public Health Laboratories • Providing technical guidance and information to healthcare and public health partners through health alerts, written guidance and webinars.