As we approach the end of a tumultuous year, NHPR is checking in with some of the people we spoke with early on in the pandemic, to see how things have changed, as part of our Hindsight series.
In the spring, we spoke with Angela Consentino. She’s epidemiologist for the city of Nashua. Recently we spoke about how the year has gone for Nashua.
Peter Biello: So last time we spoke, Angela, we were talking about the first confirmed case of covid-19 in New Hampshire. Now, it's late December. So how has the virus spread through, Nashua?
Angela Consentino: Wow. Yeah, that first case seems like a long time ago.
Peter Biello: It does, yeah.
Angela Consentino: Yeah. So since then, a lot of things have changed. So back in the spring, we were seeing, you know, 20, 30 cases a week sometimes, and now we're at almost 61 cases a day in Nashua. We're higher now in this surge than we were in the spring surge. And so the activity is heightened and then also something different than the spring is also the testing capacity. So testing is much more available for folk.
Peter Biello: And has what you have learned about COVID-19 impacted any specific public policies?
Angela Consentino: Yeah, so very specifically the masking. So the [city’s] mask ordinance enacted over the summertime - that has made a difference in regards to our community-based transmission. And then also, two, we have just recently changed our quarantine and isolation guidance from 14 days to 10 days, which is based off of the new CDC guidance.
Peter Biello: We've reported on efforts by local health leaders to reduce the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on people of color. At this point, how do you think that's working? Is there anything going on in Nashua that could be having an effect?
Angela Consentino: Yes. So we have our community-based testing clinics every Tuesday from 3 to 5. And those testing clinics, we do have a high proportion of Hispanic and Latinos that come to that testing clinic. We started having these clinics in areas where we knew that there was a high Hispanic and Latino population, so we had it at a couple of Spanish churches. And then we also tailored our materials so that everything is available in Spanish, our scheduling document is available in Spanish, and we also always have Spanish-speaking outreach workers.
Peter Biello: And I'm sure this has been a pretty intense time for you, Angela. How do you stay positive?
Angela Consentino: I've been doing a lot of the disease investigation calls where, you know, we call people and ask them how they have been feeling and doing. And I've been calling a lot of our older populations of people who are over the age of 65. And it feels really nice to be able to connect with folks who are alone and isolated.
Peter Biello: What program is that you're referring to, where you call folks who may be living alone, and might be elderly?
Angela Consentino: These are people who are who have tested positive.
Peter Biello: Oh, those are people who tested positive
Angela Consentino: Yeah, who are also elderly. So we call at the division of Public Health and Community Services. We call positive cases to check in on them and see how they're doing, see if they need anything or where they think they may have gotten sick.
Peter Biello: Can you give me an example of a call that sticks in your mind?
Angela Consentino: Yeah. So I just talked to a woman yesterday. She was 79 or something, but her older boyfriend was just hospitalized, and so she was really concerned because he was in the hospital and she, you know, she didn't know what to do when he got home and she was also sick. She answered all of my questions and she was also just very grateful for the call. She said her and her boyfriend have been isolated at home for months. The only thing they do is go to the grocery store. It was just nice to have that conversation and be able to connect with her.
Peter Biello: So about how many of those calls do you think you've made since March?
Angela Consentino: Well, we've had about 3,000 cases, so probably about 70 percent of those cases have been connected with.
Peter Biello: So you're talking about 2,100 calls?
Angela Consentino: Yeah. And it's not just me. So there's other people that make the calls. We have about seven or eight disease investigators that make these calls.
Peter Biello: Among the people you've spoken to who belong to a minority group, are they reporting having struggled with coronavirus in a way that the white members of the community may have not?
Angela Consentino: Yeah, with a lot of our Hispanic and Latino groups, I found that a lot of them are working in restaurants or other certain types of jobs where it's difficult for them to take time off. And they're very worried about taking time off. And so it's, we have to provide extra education and really enforce the idea that going to work when sick is not safe for them or for others. And we also have to, what we try to, connect them with our welfare department, who is able to walk them through the unemployment process and anything that they need to get them through quarantine and isolation. So that's definitely a fear with our racial and ethnic minority groups is not being able to work and how they're going to pay their bills.
Peter Biello: Do you know how successful the system is at taking people who may be sick out of the workforce, at least temporarily, and keeping them with some kind of steady income so that they can actually quarantine appropriately? Do you know if the system is helping people do that?
Angela Consentino: Yes. So we have had a lot of success stories where people are able to stay at home. We connect with them every couple of days to make sure that they don't need anything. We check in to see if they need groceries or medications from the pharmacy. We do our best to support those populations and make it easiest for them to stay home and maintain their quarantine.