Health worker has NH’s first case

{child_byline}By Kevin Landrigan

New Hampshire Union Leader

{/child_byline}

CONCORD — State health officials announced Monday the first case of coronavirus in the state, an employee of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon who has “mild symptoms” and is staying home in self-quarantine.

The Centers for Disease Control must still confirm the results of the test, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.

“The confirmation is not going to delay our response. We are treating it like a positive case,” Dr. Chan said.

The patient recently traveled to Italy and upon return went to see a local health care provider with mild symptoms of the flu or respiratory illness, Chan said.

The risk to the general public from this case is considered to be low, he said.

“We do not believe this case involves voluntary spread through the community,” Chan said.

The announcement came at a news conference hosted by the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Chris Sununu to give an update on the state’s response to the virus.

DHMC CEO Janet Conroy said all staff were informed on Sunday night by email that an employee had emerged as the fourth possible case and a team of 20 professionals was named to coordinate the provider’s handling of this matter.

“We stood up incident command at 9 a.m. and are going through the process of not only how to reach out to the individual but much more broadly how do we address concerns from the public,” Conroy said.

A DHMC official said the employee with the virus did not return to work.

Sununu said he was to speak later Monday on a conference call with other governors and Vice President Mike Pence, who President Trump has designated as the lead official coordinating federal actions.

“As more potential or real cases come on line, having those best practices are critical as we make sure we stay right on top of it,” Sununu said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said communication and coordination will be key to ensure the public is given the best information about the disease.

“We want to do everything we can to address the potential threat here,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said the all-Democratic delegation will be meeting with colleagues on the other side of the aisle to generate enough resources to fight the virus.

“It is science that should be driving our response to this virus. Hopefully we will see that in all the response,” Shaheen said.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said the House later this week will vote on a federal spending bill to deal with the cases.

There’s bipartisan agreement that the Trump administration’s initial request of $2.5 billion is “insufficient,” Kuster said.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, said it’s important to note the fatality rate of the virus is much lower than other outbreaks the U.S. has faced.

Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH, said the goal of all government and health care partners should be “containment and mitigation” of the virus.

“There is deep concern across the state,” Pappas said. “We all need to stay calm and collected.”

Three people from New Hampshire were treated as possible cases after returning here from China, but none of them tested positive for the virus.

“It is certainly possible we will detect other COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire,” Dr. Chan said.

The state Department of Public Health and CDC websites offer the public tips on how to stay healthy, he said.

“I will end by saying if and when this virus becomes more widespread in New Hampshire, it is important for us to take the proper effective steps,” Chan said.

State health officials recommend that residents stay home and avoid public places when sick; cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; wash hands frequently; avoid being within six feet of a person who is sick; avoid sharing drinks, smoking/vaping devices or other utensils or objects that may transmit saliva.

While there have been no suspected cases in Manchester, Mayor Joyce Craig and local health and first responders activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center to be ready to deal with any outbreak.

“We are communicating with health care partners to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information to guide clinical decision-making for their patients, as well as the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Manchester School District, and local businesses,” mayoral chief of staff Lauren Smith said in a statement.

Federal officials reported Monday afternoon that four more patients died from the virus in Washington state, bringing the total number of fatal cases in the U.S. to six.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency.

National Institutes of Health infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci told NBC News the coronavirus outbreak has “now reached outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions.”

Trump administration officials said the president is weighing a variety of potential responses to deal with the economic fallout from the outbreak.

Those include a call to cut interest rates and to pass another income tax cut.