LOWELL — Two Lowell residents have tested positive for COVID-19, marking the city’s first presumptive positive cases, according to a press release from City Manager Eileen Donoghue’s office.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health notified the city of the positive cases on Sunday. Those who have been in recent contact with the patients will be notified and are recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to Lowell Public Health Department Interim Director JoAnn Keegan.
It is unclear where the patients are being treated. Information about their identities will not be released due to confidentiality and HIPAA regulations, Keegan said.
As of Sunday, there were 164 confirmed and presumptive cases in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker announced a state of emergency on March 10, and the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic the following day.
Baker suspended operations at all private and public schools statewide through April 6. He also prohibited gatherings of more than 25 people and the consumption of food and drinks at restaurants through April 6. Restaurants may still fill takeout orders.
“We are taking all necessary steps to reduce any exposure to this virus unnecessarily,” Donoghue said.
Lowell General Hospital announced Sunday that it is imposing a no-visitor policy and rescheduling all nonurgent surgical procedures. The hospital hopes to soon conduct drive-thru COVID-19 testing using a tent that has been prepared outside the Saint’s Campus, Donoghue said.
“I think the increase of testing gives us not only a better idea of who may have the coronavirus, but how we can martial our efforts in containment of the virus,” Donoghue said.
Local dispatchers have also been trained to ask questions “so that there can be a determination as to the potential of a coronavirus patient,” allowing first responders to act accordingly, Donoghue said.
All city buildings are closed to the public until further notice. City employees will still report to work, and all departments will be available by email or phone.
“In general people need to follow our recommendations. We really want people to stay home when they can,” Keegan said. “What we’re aiming right now is to ensure that we don’t have rapid spread.”
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, city officials recommend residents frequently wash hands for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands, cover coughs with an elbow or tissue, frequently clean and disinfect surfaces, avoid mass gatherings and keep a distance from others, avoid close contact with those who are sick, and stay home if sick.
COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Keegan urges those with symptoms to call a doctor before seeking in-person care. Primary care providers can assess symptoms over the phone and suggest a plan, she said.
“The community can do more than any of us health care professionals can,” Keegan said in regards to social distancing.