No signs of tourist-caused COVID spike in North Country

  • Memorial Hospital in North Conway. JAMIE GEMMITI—Conway Daily Sun

Conway Daily Sun
Published: 9/25/2020 4:55:21 PM
Modified: 9/25/2020 4:55:09 PM

The Conway valley was flooded with tourists this summer and now that many have left, the question remains, did they leave behind a trail of COVID-19?

The answer, generally, is no, though there has been a small increase, with Memorial Hospital recording one new case over the weekend, though no one is currently hospitalized with the virus.

The rest of Carroll County has seen eight new cases in the past two weeks.

“We are cautiously optimistic, and continue to watch very closely. We are pleased we didn’t have a spike,” said Will Owen, the hospital’s emergency management coordinator.

For his part, Timothy Kershner, Memorial’s communications and public affairs director, said: “The county has done a terrific job following the guidance of mask-wearing. It has done a world of good.”

Memorial has been getting test results within 72 hours, though many come back sooner, he said.

Asked if positive cases involving visitors and/or second-homeowners in the valley are counted differently than locals, Kershner said a COVID case is counted at the patient’s address, not where the test was conducted.

This is how the New Hampshire counts case localities. The state dashboard reflects patient localities based on contact tracing results. Memorial does not track patient localities.

That means if someone from Maine tests positive at a Memorial Hospital testing site, that would be counted in his or her home town in Maine.

It also means that people who use their second home as a local address may be counted in Carroll County unless the contact tracer determines otherwise as part of their conversation, Kershner said.

The 15-minute test is currently the holy grail of testing, and Memorial is expected to get a machine to do that later this fall. It is called a Sophia machine, and the state is spending $50,000 on 25 of them. Memorial has accepted one and is working on a plan to deploy it.

Unlike with other rapid-testing machines, a negative result does not have to be confirmed with a standard test.

In recently announcing the machines, Gov. Chris Sununu said: “It will allow for community access to rapid antigen testing for students, teachers and the general community, and the vast majority of these centers are located in our community hospitals or hospital-affiliated medical practices.”

It’s too early, according to Kershner, to say whether Sophia represents a game-changer in testing that would allow people, for example, to get tested before they return to work after a flight, or how it could be used at the schools. 

“I can say we were interested enough in the possibilities promised by the Sophia machine to request one from the state,” he said. “We do not know when ours will arrive (Memorial has not received confirmation). Whenever one arrives, we will do our own testing to ensure accuracy and effectiveness.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, Memorial has recorded a total of 34 cases and has performed 3,925 tests. That includes people who have been tested more than once.

There has been a recent statewide increase in reported cases, but much of that can be attributed to the opening of schools and colleges.

The University of New Hampshire, for example, the campus with the highest number of cases, reported a total of 81.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 




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