Memorial Hospital in North Conway has seen its first deaths from COVID-19 recently. (FILE PHOTO)

CONWAY — The first deaths of patients with COVID-19 have been reported at Memorial Hospital.

Hospital spokesman Tim Kershner confirmed Wednesday there have been deaths over the past month of patients with the coronavirus, although he could not say whether COVID-19 was listed as the cause of death or whether other health issues were involved.

Federal laws require health professionals to protect the privacy of individuals they treat. Kershner said he did not want to offer any specifics that would give away the identities of the patients.

Kershner also said he did not want to talk about the exact number of patients who have died with the virus out of respect for the families.

“These are people’s lives we’re talking about,” Kershner said. “These are people with families, neighbors, friends in the community. It becomes more personal as it gets geographically closer to our community. We want to respect the privacy of families and we have a duty to respect the privacy of families.”

Memorial Hospital has recently reported difficulties in transferring some patients to hospitals that provide a higher level of specialized care, but Kershner said that was not a factor in these cases.

In the early days of the pandemic, Memorial sent many of its sickest COVID-19 patients to Maine Medical Center in Portland and other larger hospitals that had experience caring for those kinds of cases.

In recent weeks, the hospital said it is keeping more COVID patients as knowledge about the disease and staff experience with it have grown.

Kershner noted that the hospital still is transferring patients when appropriate to get them the best care possible for COVID-19 or any other health issue.

There were no deaths from COVID at Memorial prior to this summer, including during the last surge of the virus over the winter of 2020-21, Kershner said, although the hospital has had some patients who were very sick with the disease within the past 18 months.

Kershner added it should come as no surprise that people have died with COVID at Memorial as cases of the virus are on the rise due to the Delta variant.

The state is averaging about 350 new cases per day, and there are 3,221 active cases and 141 people hospitalized with the illness in New Hampshire.

“There are COVID deaths throughout New Hampshire and there are bound to be deaths at Memorial as well,” Kershner said. “But every death from COVID is one too many at this point.”

According to Kershner, no one is currently hospitalized for COVID at Memorial.

To date, 1,430 New Hampshire residents have died of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources Of those, 16 have been Carroll County residents. The figures reported at report cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 based on residence. It does not indicate where individuals were hospitalized or died.

Kershner said the news of COVID deaths at Memorial hit close to home for families of the patients as well as neighbors, friends and colleagues. He said that is true for anyone from our community who dies from the disease whether at Memorial or elsewhere.

“It’s just another call that we ought to be vaccinating against this virus,” he said. “We know that most people who enter the MaineHealth system because of COVID are folks who are not vaccinated.”

Kershner wouldn't say whether the people who died of COVID at Memorial were partly or fully vaccinated or not.

About 55 percent of New Hampshire’s 1.3 million residents are fully vaccinated, and about 60 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The level of new people getting vaccinated has significantly leveled off since June.

The Memorial Hospital vaccine clinic at the former Mt Washington Discovery Center in North Conway is is now limited to Wednesdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., due to low demand.

“We’re at a stage in this pandemic we didn’t expect to be,” Kershner said. “We thought the vaccinations were the beginning of the end, but then Delta came in, so here we are again.”

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