Nashua Mayor Donchess shares COVID experience

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NASHUA, NH – Mayor Jim Donchess addressed the city in a Facebook press conference on Wednesday afternoon, discussing his case of COVID-19 and the status of the city as a whole.

“On a few occasions, I attended or held a meeting here at City Hall with very few people,” he said. “On a Monday and on a Wednesday, here in City Hall, in a conference room with a huge conference table.

I met with three other people. We were socially distanced.”

On Thursday, an associate at City Hall who participated in that Wednesday meeting, contacted Donchess and revealed that his daughter had just tested positive for COVID-19. Donchess explained that both parties needed to get tested immediately.

“I didn’t really think I had the virus but, thought it was a cautionary measure to take,” the mayor said. “The co-employee tested positive and my test came back inconclusive.”

Donchess conferred with Nashua city director of public health and community services Bobbie Bagley, who told him that an inconclusive test is typically an indicator that the person would test positive.

“My wife had been tested,” he said. “And initially she came back negative but I was retested twice and the results came back positive on both. And now I had COVID-19 and I could begin to definitely feel the symptoms.”

Muscle aches, headaches, nausea, tiredness and weakness were all symptoms that Donchess said he was experiencing but added that he had a relatively minor case and did not have a fever. Those symptoms according to the mayor, only lasted three to four days.

Mayor James Donchess. Nashua Telegraph File Photo/Don Himsel

Donchess’ wife had a different experience, testing positive sometime later after being infected by the mayor.

“She lost her sense of smell,” he shared. “She also did not get a fever,” but did have flu-like symptoms. “Still now, a month later, she still has a little bit of tiredness.”

Both the mayor and his wife had what were considered mild cases of COVID-19. Donchess also said he had a neighbor who passed away from the disease, making them one of the 39 people to die from the coronavirus in the Gate City.

“That’s 39 families who have been adversely impacted,” Donchess said. “They have gone through a lot of grief. It’s very difficult to lose a loved one to COVID-19. This is not a disease that anyone wants to get.”

Donchess said he shared his personal story with the community because of the ways that the disease can infect someone without they’re knowing, saying, “this thing can sneak in with ways you would never expect.”

In total, six people have been infected at City Hall.

“None of us ever expected that under the circumstances in which we were working that COVID-19 would ever find its way to a City Hall meeting,” Donchess said. “So, you need to continue to be cautious.”

He continued to urge mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Initially, City Hall was closed in March and was handling car and voter registrations by appointment. The building was partially opened and people were allowed to enter the premises for car registration, again by appointment only. Donchess said for other functions, appointments were also necessary.

“After the outbreak involving me and the five other people, we had to close City Hall again, he stated. “It had already spread to some degree and we didn’t want the public or other employees to get infected.”

Donchess said the coast is clear at City Hall and the building has reopened.

Bagley did note that the virus does not discriminate against anyone.

“It doesn’t choose individuals based on anything other than the fact that, as a virus, it needs people to survive,” she said.

Bagley went on to say that globally, the pandemic continues to spread, with over 35.8 million cases being identified, and more than one million deaths across the world.

The U.S. has had over 7.5 million cases, with over 210,000 deaths.

“In New Hampshire, although we may not look like many other states across the country, COVID has impacted us,” she said. “We need to continue to do our best efforts at mitigating and stopping the spread of this infection.”

There have been over 8,700 cases and 89 percent of those cases have recovered.

“We’ve seen a 9% hospitalization rate,” Bagley continued. “These numbers don’t look or sound too alarming but they’re still significant, with a disease that we can stop if we take personal accountability to watch out for our neighbors and ourselves.”

Bagley said in Hillsborough County, there have been 4,681 cases and 294 deaths, while Nashua has been experiencing an increase in cases.

“At this point we have been averaging about eight cases per day,” she said. “This has been impacting the work we do at the health department. In fact, if you’ve seen some of the updates, Nashua has been identified as having substantial community transmission.”

The spike in Nashua cases is based on a metric that’s been identified by combining new cases and new hospitalizations and with the percent of the positivity rate.

As cases continue to come into the health department, Bagley said businesses, restaurants, schools, and sports activities are all components that can lead to increased positive cases.

“We want to encourage the economic rebuilding in the state,” Bagley said. “But when we do these things, we realize there is risk for increased exposure when people are gathered together in large crowds or with individuals who are not part of their household.”

Bagley also stressed social distancing and the wearing of masks.

“Masks reduce the spread of infection,” she said. “My droplets being spread from me to someone else. Wearing masks reduces that exposure.”

At the health department, Bagley said some cases have been based on individuals and some have been based on activities, including sports and churches.

“Our goal is to help people understand and know what their risk can be,” she said. “But we also need people to work with us. We need people to collaborate with us. So, when a public health nurse calls and wants to talk with you about a positive case or your exposure to a case, we would like for you to cooperate and work with us.”

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