State numbers lag as new Dartmouth virus cases still on the rise

Apr 23, 2020

Although numbers released by the state government on April 22 show only two new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Dartmouth over the past week, the town’s Board of Health revealed on April 23 that the number of cases has actually jumped by 36 for a total of 101 cases.

The reason for the lag in state numbers is unclear.

At least five in town have died after contracting Covid-19, with two deaths announced by officials last week and three in an outbreak at the Brandon Woods nursing home in Bliss Corner.

Meanwhile the state rapidly constructs a field hospital at UMass Dartmouth and Governor Charlie Baker announced that schools will stay closed for the rest of the academic year amid a peaking pandemic.

Frank Romano, CEO of Brandon Woods parent company Essex Group Management, said on April 20 that two residents were transported to the hospital prior to their deaths and one resident died in the Dartmouth facility.

Eighteen people had previously tested positive for the virus at the Bliss Corner nursing home.

“It’s devastating,” Romano said. “We will get through this and we will certainly mourn the people who did not make it through it with us.”

A nurse at Brandon Woods, who spoke anonymously, said that staff was supposed to be tested for the virus on April 21 — but testing was cancelled, with no new date set. 

According to the nurse, the facility’s staff has yet to be tested as a whole, although some have gone on their own to get tested.

The nurse said that many of them were also working without gowns or face shields until April 20, with just one N95 mask per staff member for the week.

“We have to wear the same one for a week, but that is protocol in most places now,” explained the nurse, who added that the facility is “very chaotic.”

Everyone is in fear, but we all have to do our best to not show it in front of the residents,” the nurse said.

Dartmouth resident Kelly Almeida’s 69-year-old father is a resident of Brandon Woods. “It’s very eerie in his hallway,” she said on April 16. “A lot of the residents in his unit tested positive.”

Almeida said that her father has tested negative for the virus twice, but that he is “nervous.” 

“It’s very scary,” she said. “It’s a hard situation...I call him often as I am sure it’s lonely being confined to his room.”

But Almeida noted that the nursing home has been good with communication. “They call me with updates as they have them,” she said. “My father’s unit nurse has been great. Always ready to answer any of my questions and ease my nerves.”

Romano was not able to comment on the staff tests before going to press, but he said that six residents have recovered from the virus, and have moved back to their rooms from a separate 16-bed self-contained unit.

Ten employees are in self-quarantine because they are symptomatic, Romano said.

He was unsure how many had tested positive, but said that any staff member with the virus would be paid during their time self-quarantining so they would not have to use any sick time.

Meanwhile a new 140-bed field hospital was assembled at the UMass Dartmouth Tripp Athletic Center last week in preparation for moving in medical equipment and staff to care for patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Friday, partitions and cots had already been put up in the gymnasium, and a lull had fallen over the space. 

“It’s incredible they put it together so quickly,” said UMass Dartmouth spokesman Ryan Merrill. “The hard part will be all the medical equipment.”

The hospital, which will be run by Southcoast Health, is aiming to receive its first patients on the 27th, Merrill noted.

Governor Baker announced on April 21 that public and private schools will remain closed through the rest of the school year.

Dartmouth school officials took to Twitter to respond to the news.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford wrote, “We will continue to support our families and ensure our seniors have a chance to celebrate!” 

“We will get through together,” she added. “We are all feeling it.”

Dartmouth High School Principal Ross Thibault tweeted that the school “is more than a building.” 

“It’s a compassionate community that rallies together in times of challenge,” he wrote. “To the Class of 2020 we will honor you!” 

The high school’s athletic department tweeted that it is “beyond sad” that there is no spring season this year, but that the department will help honor seniors and refund program fees.

As of April 22, there were 42,944 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Massachusetts, with 1,908 in Bristol County. 2,182 people have died from the illness in the commonwealth.