Dartmouth prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak

Mar 4, 2020

Students in Dartmouth public schools are being encouraged to wash their hands and hand sanitizer has run out in stores across town as fears of a coronavirus outbreak continue to spread.

The new type of coronavirus causes a flu-like illness called Covid-19. According to the state Department of Public Health, more than 80,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed globally, with more than 60 confirmed cases in the U.S. since January, and six deaths.

As of March 2, Massachusetts officials have confirmed one case of Covid-19 in a Boston resident and one more ‘presumptive’ case in Norfolk County, for which tests have come back as positive but await confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

In a statement announcing the latest presumptive case, public health officials noted that the risk to Massachusetts residents from Covid-19 remains low.

Two people in Providence, RI have also tested ‘presumptive positive’ for the virus, with a third person awaiting test results. 

According to Dartmouth Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes, state officials held a conference call with members of the town’s Board of Health on March 2. 

MacInnes said that Dartmouth Director of Public Health Chris Michaud is working on a strategy to prevent an outbreak and will present it to town officials as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth schools are urging students to thoroughly wash their hands, according to Quinn School nurse Melanie Franzese.

Nurses will also be following guidelines outlined in a February 24 letter from the state Department of Public Health.

The letter notes that patients with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing who have recently traveled from China or come in close contact with a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case should be placed in a private room with the door closed and given a face mask.

“If you are in the same room as the individual, wear a face mask and stand at least 6 feet away,” reads the letter.

However, the letter states that as of February 24, this situation is “extremely unlikely” in Massachusetts.

Stores all over Dartmouth have also run out of hand sanitizer and face masks, which are backordered all over the country and online.

As of March 3, Wal-Mart, Big Value Outlet, Walgreens, CVS, and Ocean State Job Lot were all out of hand sanitizer.

“We’ve had a big run on it, and we’re trying to restock it,” said David Tatelbaum, owner of Big Value Outlet and Dartmouth Select Board member. “We’re trying to get more, but it’s difficult. It’s out across the country.”

He added that the outlet does not normally carry face masks, and does not plan to carry them. 

“Everybody is waiting for the shoe to drop. Every day it’s a different story,” he noted. “And the situation seems to be changing a lot as well. It's a huge event, no doubt about it.”

UMass Dartmouth’s Student Health Services is hosting a campus-wide informational session for students and staff on March 3 regarding the virus, according to a college spokesperson.

“To ensure the continued safety of UMass Dartmouth community members who are studying, working, and traveling overseas, the University is currently in contact with individuals abroad to ensure their wellbeing and to offer assistance,” the spokesperson stated. “Due to the fast-moving nature of this situation, we are continuously monitoring the circumstances across the globe and in regular communication with our international partner organizations.”

Along with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, other symptoms of Covid-19 could include chills, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The CDC urges residents who are showing symptoms of respiratory illness and have recently returned from an area with a Covid-19 outbreak or have been in close contact with a person known to have Covid-19 to call a healthcare professional.

For more information, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov.