State health officials said Sunday evening that a person in New Hampshire who recently traveled to Italy is being tested for coronavirus.
Officials said the person notified their health provider after developing a fever and other symptoms after returning from Italy, one of the countries where the virus is most widespread. The person is being kept isolated and monitored, and is not considered to pose a threat to public health, according to a press release Sunday evening from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
Several colleges and high schools in the state have canceled study abroad and other foreign trips in recent days, out of concerns about the illness.
No cases of coronavirus have yet been identified in the state; three earlier suspected cases turned up negative after testing. All testing for coronavirus to date has had to be sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control, but state officials said Sunday they expect to have tests available in New Hampshire public health labs by Monday.
(Earlier updates continue below.)
Friday, Feb, 28, 12:30 p.m.
Colleges and preparatory schools throughout New Hampshire are taking steps to limit exposure to the coronavirus, including cancelling study abroad programs in countries most affected by the illness.
Saint Anselm College in Manchester announced this week that it is suspending its study abroad program in Orvieto, Italy following the growing number of cases in that country. It also cancelled a class trip to Rome that was scheduled to depart Friday.
“To be sure, this is disappointing news for the students and faculty involved in each program,” wrote college president Joseph Favazza in a school-wide email. “However, nothing is more important that the health and well-being of our students and faculty, which is why we are acting in an abundance of caution to keep them safe during this uncertain time.”
On Wednesday, the University of New Hampshire sent a message to students and faculty that it is “acutely aware of the emergent nature of this virus and tracking the situation closely.”
UNH has more than 380 students studying abroad this semester, including 96 in Italy. At this time, it hasn’t recalled those students, but it has cancelled a program attended by four students in South Korea. All programs in China have been cancelled, as well.
Dartmouth College is ending its language program in Rome ahead of schedule, according to a report in the Union Leader.
Prep schools in the state, many of which attract students from around the globe, are also taking precautions.
Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter has cancelled spring trips to China, Italy and countries in the Caribbean. It is also advising that “all families review travel plans for the March break and focus on contingency options in the event that travel from and to Exeter is made more difficult by health concerns,” according to the school’s website.
St. Paul’s School in Concord has cancelled student trips to England, Italy, Greece and France scheduled for March. It is also seeking alternative plans for its international students who planned to travel home during the school’s spring break.
“You know, the relative risk was fairly low for our kids, but with changing nature of travel advisories, we were afraid maybe they’d get stuck over there, and we certainly didn’t want to have anything happen to them that would impact their well-being or their safety,” says Dr. John Bassi, the school’s medical director.
Earlier story continues below:
State and local officials say they are taking appropriate steps, including the creation of a team of an emergency response team, to prepare for potential cases of coronavirus in New Hampshire.
To date, there have been no confirmed cases of the new virus in the state.
Since emerging in China in late December, there have been more than 82,000 cases confirmed across 47 countries, resulting in approximately 2,700 deaths.
“Given what we have seen in other countries, it is certainly possible that we could see community spread at some point in the U.S. and New Hampshire,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The state health department announced this week that it has activated an "Incident Management Team" to coordinate the state’s response to a potential outbreak. Officials are convening conference calls three times per week with local public health and emergency response personnel.
Preparations are also being made should a “medical surge” be required locally, including planning for housing, transportation and food for those placed in isolation or quarantine due to illness or exposure.
“We continue to work with hospitals, emergency responders, community organizations, local health departments and public health partners to ensure they are prepared and have the resources they need to respond if and when the virus is present in New Hampshire,” Chan said.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s largest provider of health care services, says it is working with officials to prepare for a possible influx of cases.
"We understand the public’s concern over the potential spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and we want to reassure that we are diligently working to help our communities prepare for this potential public health crisis," said a spokesperson for the Lebanon-based hospital.
Darmouth-Hitchcock developed what it calls a "High Threat Infection team" as part of its preparations for a possible spread of the Ebola virus in 2014. "This team of doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, patient decontamination technicians and respiratory therapists have all volunteered to be first responders if a patient suspected of having a high-threat infection arrives at D-H. They regularly participate in drills and competencies to test D-H’s readiness for a high-threat infection event."
Local officials say they are working to disseminate information about the coronavirus and how to best stop its spread at a community-wide level.
As with the seasonal flu virus, health officials including Kim Bernard, a public health nurse for the city of Nashua, recommend “washing your hands with soap and water, not touching your face, avoiding close contact with people experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness.”
According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is currently no vaccine for the virus or specific treatment beyond coping with symptoms.
Officials are encouraging those who believe they may have been exposed to the virus to contact their healthcare provider.