UPDATE: At 4:05 p.m. Sunday Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health issued a news release saying the third Grafton County man to test positive for COVID-19 is not employed by Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The new Vermont case also has no connection to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – State health officials abruptly ended a press conference on Sunday about the third and fourth cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire identified over the weekend – including the first in Rockingham County – while refusing to say whether the third person works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon as do the first two.
Officials released little information about the fourth man in Rockingham County – the first positive test for COVID-19 outside Grafton County – except to say he is self-isolating after recently travelling to Italy and had been at home for several days after returning.
“We believe the exposure to the community (in Rockingham County) is low at this time,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, but stressed the investigation is in its early stages.
Church services were cancelled Sunday and for the rest of the week at Hope Bible Fellowship Church at 114 Seminary Hill in West Lebanon after the third man tested positive for COVID-19 at the state laboratory on Saturday. He had attended a service there on March 1 with the second man to be identified from Grafton County and about 60 churchgoers.
The total number of positive tests in New Hampshire now stands at four – three men in Grafton County and the latest man in Rockingham County, officials said. All are in isolation at home and the state is now monitoring 150 other individuals, officials said at the news conference.
Dr. Chan said the state laboratory has tested about 40 individuals for COVID-19 in the last week, about half on Saturday.
“We are certainly ramping up testing in our public health laboratory and we can certainly expect further tests to be conducted in the coming days and potentially even positive tests,” Chan said.
There is no connection to Vermont where officials recently identified the state’s first case of COVID-19, officials said.
Officials say they are precluded from releasing more details about individuals because of federal privacy statutes, frustrating reporters who sought to make the name of the town where the person is quarantined public because town meeting is Tuesday, March 10, and the patients’ place of employment.
In the case of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, one reporter said there are 8,000 employees so it is unlikely that that person’s identity would be revealed, but officials said only DHMC could release that information. A DHMC spokesman didn’t respond to questions on Sunday.
The state isn’t issuing any suggestions relative to whether people should gather at town meetings or other events at this point in the outbreak.
Officials said releasing too much geographical detail could identify the person, adding patients’ identity is confidential by federal law to protect them.
The state says in the last week the following four cases have tested positive for COVID-19, two of which have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with two positive tests from the state lab pending – considered presumptive positives – for confirmation:
Monday, March 2: First positive test for COVID-19 announced at press conference. http://indepthnh.org/2020/03/02/dhhs-dartmouth-hitchcock-worker-is-1st-to-test-positive-in-nh-for-covid-19/ He is identified as a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon employee who recently returned from a trip to Italy, one of the hotspots of the Coronavirus disease. He developed symptoms on Feb. 28, visited a D-H ambulatory clinic and was told to self-isolate at home, but The Valley News reported instead, he attended a mixer with DHMC residents and Tuck School of Business students at The Engine Room in White River Junction. The state filed an order of isolation and he is being monitored by phone to ensure his compliance. The Vermont Department of Health identified him as a “physician trainee,” the Valley News reported.
Tuesday, March 3 – Second adult male from Grafton County tested positive for COVID-19 after apparently having close contact at The Engine Room event with the first person who had violated self-quarantine. http://indepthnh.org/2020/03/03/nh-2nd-presumptive-positive-for-covid-19-1st-patient-failed-to-self-quarantine/
Saturday, March 7 – Third and fourth adult males test positive for COVID-19. The third person from Grafton County had contact with the second person to test positive at Hope Bible Fellowship Church on March 1 before the second person experienced any symptoms.
Saturday, March 7 – Fourth adult male tests positive for COVID-19. He had been at home in Rockingham County for several days after returning from Italy. It is unrelated to the Grafton County cases, officials said.
In Lebanon, officials are asking anyone who attended the March 1 social or service at the Hope Bible Fellowship Church, about 60 people, and has developed symptoms of fever or respiratory illness to immediately stay home and distance themselves from household members and contact the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 603-271-4496 (after-hours: 603-271-5300).
The Hope and Bible Fellowship Church is working state public health officials to advise everyone who attended the coffee social or the worship services on March 1 to stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days (through March 15th) and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
“These new cases broaden our investigation and our public health team is working to try and prevent further community transmission,” said Dr. Chan. “It is important for anybody in our communities who may have fever or other respiratory symptoms to practice social distancing and stay home when ill. We continue to work with hospitals and community organizations to respond to this challenging global COVID-19 outbreak.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services released the following advice:
Because COVID-19, and all respiratory illnesses, are most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, all people should take the same precautions as those recommended to prevent the spread of influenza:
• Stay home and avoid public places when sick (i.e. social distancing)
• Cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
• Wash hands frequently
• Avoid being within 6 feet (close contact) of a person who is sick
• Avoid sharing drinks, smoking/vaping devices, or other utensils or objects that may transmit saliva
• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces
For more information on COVID-19 in NH, please visit https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/2019-ncov.htm. For the latest information from the CDC, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Instructions for people to self-quarantine are available at https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/documents/self-quarantine-covid.pdf.