With COVID cases rising, APD implements mask rule for employees

Abdullah Shah cleans a patient room at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, March 30, 2023. Shah works at the hospital as a housekeeper six days a week and typically calls his family during his lunch break because the eight and a half hour time difference means that they are asleep when he is done with his shift. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Abdullah Shah cleans a patient room at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, March 30, 2023. Shah works at the hospital as a housekeeper six days a week and typically calls his family during his lunch break because the eight and a half hour time difference means that they are asleep when he is done with his shift. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Anna O'Hara, of Claremont, N.H., unpacks new computer monitors at Alice Peck Day Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug., 9, 2022. She works as a desktop technician at the hospital. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Anna O'Hara, of Claremont, N.H., unpacks new computer monitors at Alice Peck Day Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Aug., 9, 2022. She works as a desktop technician at the hospital. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-10-2023 8:29 AM

LEBANON — Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital began requiring employees to wear masks again earlier this month, amid an increase in COVID-19 infections.

“Patients and visitors will see the implementation of universal masking (masking at all times except to eat or drink) of our staff to help limit transmission,” Laura Whitcomb, an APD spokeswoman, said in a Wednesday email, which noted that the masking began on Aug. 1.

The requirement does not apply to patients or visitors, she said.

The change does not apply to the rest of the Dartmouth Health system, of which APD is a member, Cassidy Smith, a DH spokeswoman, said in an email.

APD instituted masking for staff in departments where there have been increased exposures to COVID-19 for 10 days from the exposure date to prevent exposing other employees or patients, Smith said.

“This is one of the mitigation strategies our health system members may use at a department level as increased COVID exposures or clusters of COVID infections are identified to prevent further transmission,” she said.

The change at APD, which along with other DH members dropped mask requirements for people without respiratory symptoms in April, comes amid a nationwide uptick in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in recent weeks.

“Hospitals always take the care and safety of their patients and staff as their highest priority and will take precautions, including masking, as circumstances warrant,” Kathy Bizarro-Thunberg, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said in an email.

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For the week ending July 29, there were 9,056 COVID-19 hospital admissions nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That marked an increase of nearly 13% from the previous week.

But the number sits well below previous highs, including the 44,000 weekly hospital admissions in early January of this year, the nearly 45,000 per week in late July 2022, or the 150,000 admissions in January 2022.

In Vermont, an average of fewer than five people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since mid-March, according to the Vermont Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 surveillance report issued Wednesday.

In New Hampshire, which has roughly twice the population of Vermont, fewer than 20 people have been treated in hospitals for COVID-19 since early April, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. For each day of the week ending Aug. 3, about 10 people were being treated for COVID-19 in a New Hampshire hospital, according to the most recent weekly report from the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

Several hundred people with COVID-19 in the U.S. have died each week this summer. That’s down from the several thousand who died each week in January of this year and the tens of thousands who died weekly in January 2022.

In Vermont, 10 people have died from the virus each month in May to July of this year. In New Hampshire, an average of less than one person has died a day since May, according to DHHS.

Since the expiration of the federal public health emergency in May, the CDC and most states no longer track the number of positive cases.

Higher levels of COVID-19 in wastewater concentrations are being found in the Northeast and South, Cristin Young, an epidemiologist at Biobot Analytics, the CDC’s wastewater surveillance contractor, told the Associated Press. Still the levels are about 2.5 times lower than last summer.

On the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley, there are three wastewater treatment facilities participating in the state’s wastewater surveillance program: Hanover, Sunapee and Newport. There are no wastewater surveillance sites on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley.

The most recent samples collected in Hanover and Sunapee show increasing prevalence of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a dashboard on the DHHS website.

In Hanover, the prevalence of 1,559 viral copies per 100 mL on Aug. 1 is the highest the college town has seen since early February. In Sunapee, the prevalence of 1,156 viral copies per 100 mL on July 31 is the highest the town has seen since early March. Newport, however, has levels of COVID-19 that are below the level of detection, as it has since early June.

Newly formulate COVID-19 vaccines are slated to be released in the fall.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.