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Confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Harvard

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, confirmed cases of the disease were reported in Harvard last week. That announcement went out to town residents registered with MyConnect April 2. While the number of cases in Harvard is unknown (see related story), Worcester County’s number of confirmed cases grew from 433 to 1,172 between March 31 and April 7.

Ambulance Service Director Jason Cotting said he couldn’t comment on any specifics, but he said call volume has not increased, and staffing numbers are stable. As for the service’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), Cotting said, “For the moment, I’m pleased with where we are, but we’ll continue to look for new sources.” He added that Harvard’s normally low ambulance call volume has contributed to an ample inventory of protective equipment.

In a video released by the Emergency Management Team, Fire Chief Rick Sicard, who leads the team, said that residents who do not have severe symptoms should not call 911 for an ambulance; instead, they should call their primary care physician or the state’s 211 number for nonemergency assistance. The video is not currently on the town website, but it is available at https://vimeo.com/showcase/harvard-emergency-04-04-2020.

In that same video, Police Chief Ed Denmark said the protocol for police response to calls has temporarily changed. An officer will now respond in person only if there is an immediate threat to someone or to preserve evidence at a crime scene. For all other calls, dispatch will forward the caller’s phone number to the Police Department and an officer will return the call. If an officer needs to respond to a location for a call, Denmark asks that the caller step outside and stay at least 6 feet away from the officer unless otherwise instructed.

Local hospitals

On April 7, Emerson Hospital reported it had 19 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients, eight of whom were in the intensive care unit (ICU). Those numbers are up from five confirmed inpatients a week ago, all five of whom were in the ICU. Emerson reported it currently has 15 admitted patients who are under investigation for COVID-19.

Emerson released a statement April 3 saying that, in preparation for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients, it has increased its inpatient capacity and created a second ICU. It has also purchased additional ventilators and currently has sufficient PPE for its staff. To protect its frontline caregivers, it has purchased scrubs that will be professionally laundered so staff members do not have to wear scrubs home or launder them there.

Steward Health Care, which owns the Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), has shifted ICU resources from the 73-bed Ayer hospital to some of its larger facilities in response to the crisis. Steward’s marketing communications and public relations consultant Mary Crotty told the Press that inpatient intensive care admissions at Nashoba Valley Medical Center have been temporarily suspended, and equipment and staff are being “redeployed to communities experiencing increased need as a result of COVID-19.” Crotty said the NVMC emergency room is available to all patients, including those with COVID-19, and general inpatient services continue to operate. In addition, she said resources are still available for patients in need of immediate intensive care services.

A dispatcher at Nashoba Valley Regional Dispatch, which handles Harvard’s 911 calls, told the Press that dispatchers have not been given any specific instructions related to NVMC. Ambulance Services Director Cotting told the Press that the new ICU policies at NVMC are nuanced, and “not going to affect the care people we transport will receive.” He added that if the ambulance is transporting a patient who would need to be admitted to intensive care, and there is concern regarding availability of an ICU bed at Nashoba Valley, the ambulance would take the patient to Emerson Hospital. He said that’s something they frequently do anyway because NVMC is such a small hospital.

Cotting said he was told there are still ICU nurses at Nashoba Valley, and that they have the ability to stabilize any patient that comes in. After being stabilized, some patients may be moved to another hospital for further care, but Cotting said Harvard’s ambulance service is not involved in that process since it is strictly a 911 call service.

Emerson Hospital is asking for donations of all types of personal protective equipment, as well as hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and digital thermometers. In addition, monetary donations in any amount are needed ($20 buys one set of scrubs). More information on donations is available on Emerson’s website at www.emerson​hospital.org.

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