Late Tuesday afternoon, the New Hampshire Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) released a statement confirming the death of a patron who ate at Rep. Chris Pappas’ restaurant was directly linked to his exposure to the norovirus.
“The (OCME) has determined that norovirus was a contributing cause of death in the person who passed away after attending an event at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester, New Hampshire, on November 24, 2019. The OCME completed its final report today after conducting an autopsy last month. The person who died is an adult from Hillsborough county. No additional details about this person will be released by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) due to federal and state privacy laws,” the statement said.
“We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the person who passed away,” said Chief of the DHHS Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, Beth Daly.
The victim was one of 18 people who became ill from the norovirus after eating at the restaurant’s function hall on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. There was no public disclosure of the outbreak, and the one media report 10 days later failed to disclose the name of the restaurant.
New Hampshire Journal broke the story last week and has repeatedly requested a comment from Rep. Pappas. He has declined.
Nancy West at InDepthNH.org reports that Pappas also refused to answer their questions, but his spokesperson did respond with a statement denying that Pappas’ political position played any role in the fact that news of the deadly outbreak at his restaurant was kept from the public for a month.
“Congressman Pappas did not influence the process in any way,” spokesperson Collin Gately told her. “He stepped back from the day-to-day operation of the Puritan Backroom after taking office and the management team at the restaurant dealt with local and state health officials.”
Health records indicate that the Puritan Backroom hasn’t had a mandatory twice-a-year health inspection since January, 2019. The restaurant was four months overdue when the norovirus outbreak occurred. In the January inspection, the restaurant was given a disturbingly low rating of 84, in part because of unsafe food handling by staff.
According to the CDC, one of the most common ways for the norovirus to be spread is by food service employees. One of the people who fell ill from the norovirus at the November incident was a member of the waitstaff at Puritan Backroom.