Patrick, other localities respond to COVID-19

(Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Health)


By Brandon Martin and Cory L. Higgs

Local officials are monitoring the novel coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID-19, and the county is prepared to act, as needed.

“We are prepared for what the health department has said we need to do at this time,” Patrick County’s Coordinator of Emergency Services Steve Allen said, adding he is closely monitoring state and federal updates to the changing situation.

Allen also said that dispatchers are implementing a series of four-questions to ask when calls are received for emergency medical care of an upper respiratory infection. Answers to the questions will help determine whether the ill person was exposed to COVID-19, identify the precautions EMS workers need to take as well as help the hospital prepare for the patient if transport is needed.

“Patrick County is monitoring the outbreak of the coronavirus” and is in close contact with state and local emergency services officials to stay abreast of the most up to date information, said Geri Hazelwood, interim county administrator.

“We are encouraging our employees to take precautions. If they’re sick, we’re telling them to stay home, and anyone who comes into the county administration building is encouraged to use hand sanitizers,” she said.

While some localities, like Henry County, have declared a state of emergency, Hazelwood said Patrick County has not “at this time.” She added that would require action by the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, which had to cancel a called meeting Wednesday due to illness of some board members.

Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said that from a law enforcement standpoint, “business will continue as normal. Deputies will be practicing common sense measures to protect themselves, as we all should be. Our recommendation is to follow practices set forth by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).”

Protective measures have been implemented in the jail, Smith said. All non essential visitation is cancelled. Inmate phone use times have increased two-hours to compensate. Additionally, inmate trustees are unable to work off of jail property.

Patrick County School Superintendent Dean Gilbert said that the school system is trying to ensure that youngsters aged 1 to 18 have access to meals after Gov. Ralph Northam on March 13 ordered public schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks.

Meals were provided to 120 youngsters on Tuesday, he said. They also will be provided today (Wednesday) and Friday for pickup at area schools. An online survey and other methods are being used to allow parents/guardians to register their youngsters, he said.

On Friday, Gilbert said school officials will regroup and hopefully have updated numbers of youngsters who need meals the following week. The program will continue as long as possible, he said.

Instructional activities posted online, as well as suggestions for off-screen activities “and old-school stuff, like practicing your time tables,” Gilbert said.

Some universities and colleges continue to expand online class offerings to help curtail the potential spread of COVID-19.

Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) shifted a majority of classes to online. The campus will use the extra time to focus on deep cleaning and sanitizing.

“This situation is fluid and changing constantly. We are fully committed to making the needed changes quickly and efficiently as they arise. At this point in time, we will focus on limiting possible exposure [and] expanding our regular cleaning and sanitizing regimen,” PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin wrote in a statement.

Those hands-on classes that are not possible to teach remotely will move to a modified schedule to ensure that students can receive instruction in very small groups where social distancing will be practiced.

“While there are no suspected cases of the coronavirus at Ferrum College, a transition to online instruction will begin Wednesday, March 18. The college plans to resume in-seat classes on April 6.

“To reduce the need for students to travel, the college will permit students to remain on campus, if they choose to do so. Students who choose to leave campus will not be permitted to return until the college resumes normal operations. During this time, residence halls and dining services will remain open,” the college wrote in a release.

The Department of Corrections has canceled offender visitation at all facilities until further notice. Off-site video visitation is still available. All official travel outside of Virginia by state employees has been halted as well. There will be some leeway for inter-state commuters and essential personnel. State employees have been advised to limit in-person meetings and non-essential work-related gatherings.

Because of fears of spreading the virus, some aspects of daily life have also been interrupted. The National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have postponed games until further notice until. In addition, NASCAR has added an infectious disease specialist to their consulting physician group to provide technical assistance and to inform policy. They are also taking precautions such as having media events in open-air facilities and implementing structures to distance drivers from the press and general public.

The virus also is impacting annual events.

In a press conference Sunday, Northam imposed a state-wide ban on special public events that expect gatherings of more than 100 people.

“It’s just not a good idea for that many people to be that close to each other right now,” he said. “That means events that bring together more than 100 people in a single room or a single confined space without room to spread out.”

The list of events impacted includes parades, festivals and gatherings in auditoriums, stadiums or conferences, Northam said, noting airports, offices, hospitals, restaurants or grocery stores were not included.

The High Point Market Authority postponed this year’s Spring Market, slated for April 25-29, until a later date in early June in expectation that conditions have improved by then. The market has been a major part of the state’s  economy since 1909. The event has only been cancelled once, in 1942 markets because of World War II.

“Our board of directors will continue to monitor the situation, and we will remain in communication with the proper medical and elected officials,” said Tom Conley, president and CEO of the High Point Market Authority. “Our aim is to have a decision in early May as to if Market can occur, given the uncertainties of this rapidly evolving situation.”

Sovah Health announced in a media advisory that they will begin enhancing visitor restrictions and implementing new screening requirements beginning March 15.

First, they reduced visitor entrances down to two points at their Danville and Martinsville sites–the main entrance and the emergency department. Staff will man the entrance points to screen patients, visitors and other staff members for respiratory symptoms and for travel history, as suggested by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Additionally, the hospital is only allowing one visitor per patient at a time and the visitor must be at least age 16.

Exceptions to the new restriction may be made for end-of-life and pediatric patients. The hospital also said that visitation hours may change as the situation continues to unfold. As of now, the hospital does not have a presumptive positive case of COVID-19, according to the advisory.

Wake Forest Baptist Health, along with six other regional health systems, is expanding visitor restrictions and asking those who are not immediate family members to avoid visiting patients unless absolutely necessary – even if visitors are healthy and regardless of their age. Existing visitor restrictions for children age 12 and under that were previously implemented to help control the spread of flu remain in effect.

The restrictions apply to all Wake Forest Baptist inpatient locations.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” said the Wake Forest Baptist press release. Additional steps may be needed to help control the spread of the virus.

Health officials said that prevention is the best course of action, and underscore the importance of frequent hand washing, avoiding large crowds, traveling, and touching your face.

COVID-19 has become a worldwide pandemic and government officials, businesses and families are all scrambling to find ways to address it.

As of March 16, there have been 1,629 total reported cases of the virus in the United States resulting in 41 deaths. It has spread to 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Because of the increased number of cases, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13 to combat the outbreak, freeing $50 billion in federal resources that will be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For Virginia, and as of Sunday, there had been 48 presumptive positive cases and one death so far out of 408 people tested. The number of cases had risen to 51 by Monday, according to reports.

Northam declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth on March 12 to allow more flexibility for the state to ease regulatory requirements and procurement rules. It also allows for continued federal and multi-state coordination, and ensures continued access to critical services for the most vulnerable Virginians.

“Our top priority is to make sure Virginians stay safe and healthy, and that our response to this situation leaves no one behind,” Northam said. “From our health department, to our schools, to our hospitals, to our transit systems, Virginia’s agencies and institutions have been thoroughly planning for every scenario. This emergency declaration will ensure we can continue to prepare for and appropriately respond to Virginians’ needs during this time.”

The declaration followed a teleconference with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., about various concerns regarding the impact of the virus.

“I think we should expect these numbers to increase and dramatically increase as more testing equipment gets into the marketplace,” Warner said. “We need more tests out in the marketplace and that will result in a higher number of confirmed cases.”

On March 11, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.9 percent, adding on to a decline of 20.3 percent from a high reached on Feb. 12. The Dow fell again on March 16 by approximately 3,000 points, even after federal officials took actions to try to stabilize the economy, such as waiving interest rates on federally backed student loans and purchasing more crude oil for the U.S. reserve.

Warner said that concerns of the virus have forced businesses to tell their workers to stay home to minimize the potential of spreading the disease. This action prevents cash flow into small businesses and specifically hurts employees.

“No one should lose their job, lose their pay or not have the flexibility to take care of their kids if their schools are shut down,” he said. “Let’s focus on those that have the illness or are quarantining on their own. If you are in that two week quarantine period then you should not lose your job and pay.”

He also said that the House of Representatives worked on a package to address paid sick leave, shore up unemployment benefits to provide immediate support for furloughed employees, and provide nutritional support for students at schools that rely on Title I funds who may not get meals due to school closures.

The bill, H.R. 6201 or Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed on March 14.

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., voted in favor of the legislation “to counteract the economic and social damage inflicted by the coronavirus. It’s not perfect, but it will help.”







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