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Norfolk County woman who tested positive for coronavirus is second Mass. case

The cafeteria at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, R.I., was empty Monday. The school was closed after two people who returned from a school trip to Europe tested positive for coronavirus.
The cafeteria at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, R.I., was empty Monday. The school was closed after two people who returned from a school trip to Europe tested positive for coronavirus.David Goldman/Associated Press

Massachusetts reported its second case of coronavirus Monday and New Hampshire its first, while Rhode Island officials said one of the two people in that state with the illness had attended high school for more than three days after returning from a European trip.

The developments in New England came as the US death toll rose to six, all in Washington state, and infections continued to surge in global hot spots such as South Korea and Italy.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said a Norfolk County woman in her 20s tested positive Monday night after traveling to Italy with a school group and showing symptoms of the illness. She is recovering at home.

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If the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm her test results, the woman will become the second case in Massachusetts. The state’s first case, a college student in his 20s who had traveled to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, was reported Feb. 1.

In New Hampshire, an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system who lives in Grafton County and recently traveled to Italy tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials said. The patient, the state’s first known infection, has mild symptoms and remains at home while health officials investigate.

“We’re going through the process of not only figuring out how to reach out to individuals that may have had contact with this individual, but much more broadly, how do we address concerns of the public,’’ said Dr. Joanne Conroy, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s CEO.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, speaking at the State House before the state’s second case was announced, said the risk of contracting the virus remains low but vowed state officials are preparing for "any and all possible scenarios.”

Baker did not say what would trigger the state to close schools or take other measures to contain the virus.

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“We’re going to do as much scenario-planning as we possibly can,” he said. “We’ll make calls based on information as it becomes available to us in real time.”

Baker, state health officials give update on coronavirus
On Monday, Governor Baker, HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders, and DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel gave an update on coronavirus in Massachusetts. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff, Video: Tyler Dolph/Globe Correspondent)

Dr. Monica Bharel, the state commissioner of public health, said there’s currently no indication that large events should be postponed or canceled. But in the Boston area, some seemed to be preparing for the prospect of quarantines, emptying stores of bottled water, raiding the frozen-food aisles, and stocking up on cleaning and sanitizing products.

In Rhode Island, where over the weekend officials said that a teenager and a 40-year-old had tested positive after returning from Europe last month, the state said Monday that the student had attended 3½ days of school following the trip. Another student, who had contact with both those infected, served food at the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen on Friday.

Adrienne Marchetti, executive director of the food kitchen, said she is worried that the 60 to 70 people who visit the shelter each day may have been exposed. Some are homeless, and some have addictions or compromised immune systems, she said.

“I think people are scared,” Marchetti said. “They are saying don’t panic, but we are humans. That’s what people do.”

Elsewhere in New England, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, have not reported any coronavirus infections.

Nationwide, the number of cases climbed past 100. In Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine declared an emergency and said the county is buying a hotel to be used as a hospital for patients who need to be isolated.

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“We have moved to a new stage in the fight,” he said. Researchers have said the virus may have been circulating undetected in the area for weeks.

Worldwide, more than 89,000 people have been infected and more than 3,000 have died, the vast majority in China, where the virus first appeared late last year.

The illness, named Covid-19, is characterized by fever and coughing and, in serious cases, shortness of breath or pneumonia. There are no proven treatments.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus, and how is it treated?
The US Centers for Disease Control says little is known about the virus, but it still has some tentative answers.

Outside of China, the countries hit hardest have been South Korea, with more than 4,300 cases; Italy, where more than 2,000 people have been infected; and Iran, with 1,500 cases and 66 deaths.

But while the virus recently appeared for the first time in New York, Moscow, and Berlin, health officials sought to reassure a nervous public the crisis can be held in check.

“Containment is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries,” said the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

On a stop in Connecticut, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams called for caution but “not panic.”

“The risk to individuals from the novel coronavirus right now is low," he said. "Due to the administration’s aggressive containment strategies, we have done a good job of limiting coronavirus entry into the United States.”

Adams and Connecticut’s public health commissioner, Renee Coleman-Mitchell, called on the public to take precautions such as washing hands, elbow “bumping” instead of shaking hands, and getting flu shots. Flu shots would decrease the number of people hospitalized because of flu and free up space, if needed, to treat patients sickened by the new virus, they said.

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Adams noted the current flu season in the US is severe and has killed an estimated 18,000 people.

“I would be shocked, I would be absolutely shocked, if we get anywhere near the hospitalizations or deaths from coronavirus that we’ve had for the flu in this country,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, announced in a news conference Monday that South Korea had begun screening all US-bound airline passengers and that Italy would start such screenings within 12 hours.

In Florida, state officials declared a public health emergency Sunday night after two residents tested positive for the virus, including a man in his 60s who has no known connections to anyone who’s infected.

In China, the outbreak is waning. On Tuesday morning, the health ministry announced just 125 new cases confirmed over the previous 24 hours — the smallest number since China began publishing nationwide figures on Jan. 21.

On Monday evening, the president of Emerson College said in an e-mail to the campus community that students in the school’s study-abroad program in the Netherlands would return to Boston this week to complete the semester.

In Newton, a group of high school students who returned Saturday from a month-long trip to Italy will stay home from school as a precaution while officials screen for signs of coronavirus infection, officials said Monday.

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None of the 19 students or two adult chaperones who were with them when they returned have shown any signs of illness, Superintendent of Schools David Fleishman told reporters at Newton City Hall.

"This is a very unsettling time for all of us," Fleishman said. "I think the job for the adults is to support the students, even when the adults feel some anxiety."

Amanda Milkovits, Dan McGowan, Travis Andersen, and John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.