Officials reveal number of Covid-19 cases in Dartmouth

Apr 7, 2020

Starting today, Dartmouth health officials will be giving weekly updates on measures being taken to mitigate the spread of coronavirus — including letting residents know the number of positive cases of Covid-19 in town.

Director of Public Health Chris Michaud said that as of April 7, there are 31 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Dartmouth. 

The number of positive cases “in and of itself is not reflective of the presence of the disease,” he explained, due to a number of people who appear to show no symptoms despite carrying the virus. “That’s what we know about,” he said of the positive cases. “We believe it to be more than that.”

Michaud noted that Dartmouth public health officials are working very hard to keep residents safe. “If someone is positive and lives in Dartmouth, we know,” he said, adding that the cases are “evenly distributed” across town.

“One of the concerns that people have had is that there is some sort of a hotspot,” he said. “This is not a hotspot-type event.”

Officials are made aware of cases through a statewide database known as MAVEN, the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiological Network.

If a patient tests positive for Covid-19, the lab sends the information to the state Department of Public Health, where it is entered into MAVEN and from there sent to the city or town where the patient lives.

Privacy and confidentiality laws are observed wherever possible, but may not always apply due to the “overriding interest in protecting public health,” Michaud said.

Public health nurses then view the files and begin managing the cases, which includes requiring patients to isolate themselves even from those in their own household for at least ten full days.

During that time, the patient is asked to stay in separate living quarters, use a separate bathroom, and get meals put outside the door so that they don’t use the kitchen, if possible. 

Those in single-person households are asked to get all necessities delivered to the house, with nurses checking in periodically.

Family members and other close contacts, identified through an in-depth interview with the patient, are also entered into MAVEN and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

Those in self-quarantine are allowed to come into contact with other household members, but must keep away from those outside the home.

“These measures are really helping prevent the spread of transmission in addition to business closures, social distancing, hand washing, and hand awareness, or awareness of when you are touching your face,” noted Michaud.

He did not comment on whether anyone in Dartmouth has been hospitalized or died from the illness.

The number of residents tested remains unknown, he noted, as South Coast patients may travel as far as Rhode Island to get tested, depending on their care provider.

According to Michaud, there is a “constantly evolving” policy on testing.

Patients may be tested for the virus if they have had contact with a known case, and especially if they are at high risk, such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, or health care providers.

Those with symptoms are typically tested for flu first, and sent home if they test positive. Covid-19 and flu do not coexist in the same host. If the flu test is negative, they will likely be tested for Covid-19.

Michaud added that officials waited until now to release the numbers due to former DPH guidelines requesting municipalities keep the information confidential.

“DPH is always concerned with anonymity and confidentiality with releasing numbers,” he explained, adding that unlike Dartmouth, the state agency employs epidemiologists and clinical experts. “It’s hard for us to step out of line when we don’t have that level of expertise.”

And DPH guidance can change rapidly as the understanding of this new virus evolves. 

“We’re dealing with a disease that our knowledge of it is about 100 days, or less than 100 days,” Michaud said. “And that’s why we’re constantly seeing DPH guidance changing, because as they learn something more or different, they’re remaining nimble and adapting to that.”

Public Information Officer Det. Kyle Costa stressed that residents should “take every precaution possible” regardless of the number of cases.

“We’re just telling people to do the same thing day in and day out,” he said. “[People] shouldn’t be numbers driven as far as their safety is concerned.”