Local public safety leaders monitor coronavirus as state cases grow

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 11, 2020 | 11:49 a.m.

DINWIDDIE – With nearly a half-dozen presumptive cases of coronavirus, also called COVID-19, being confirmed by state health officials this week, adding to the hundreds of similar confirmations across the nation, localities are keeping a close eye on the virus’ spread and preparing should cases begin to crop up in their communities.

Monday, the Virginia Department of Health confirmed the fourth and fifth presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, one in Fairfax and another in Spotsylvania Counties in the northern reaches of the state just outside of Washington D.C.

By Wednesday, that number rose to eight, with presumptive cases in Loudoun and Virginia Beach.

The confirmations come as the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to grow, according to numbers reported by the Centers for Disease Control. As of Wednesday morning, the agency’s figures showed nearly 650 cases of the virus being reported in the United States across 35 jurisdictions. Of those cases, 25 people have died from the disease.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions.

According to health officials, “Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, which usually appear “within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.” The virus is known to spread “primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”

The United States is one of dozens of nations across the globe reporting cases of COVID-19 with the likes of Italy and South Korea being among the hardest hit nations beyond the borders of China, which has been at the epicenter of the virus since cases began to be reported in the city of Wuhan earlier this year.

In total, the World Health Organization reported over 113,000 COVID-19 confirmations across the world, with 4,125 new cases since the prior day’s update, and 4,012 deaths, with 203 additional fatalities including in that figure.

The spread of the virus has seen runs on items like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in stores, sporting events being played without audiences, and large conventions being axed as communities and nations work to quell the further spread of COVID-19 while scientists work to develop a vaccine to combat the virus.

Back in Virginia, on the heels of the two new cases Monday, health officials reiterated the state is prepared to respond to the coronavirus as experts expect the number of cases to continue to rise nationally and around the globe.

“The Virginia Department of Health, hospitals, and health care providers statewide continue to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth,” State Health Commissioner, M. Norman Oliver remarked. “Through a strategic, coordinated, statewide response, the Commonwealth is well-prepared to respond to positive COVID-19 cases as they occur.”

That response also involves localities as municipalities review their public safety protocols while also remaining engaged with state and federal officials. In Dinwiddie, Fire and EMS Chief Dennis Hale said his department is keeping track of the latest developments involving the virus and its impacts on the Commonwealth as part of the county’s preparations.

“We have been dealing with the state health department on conference calls all through last week so we have been on it for a bit now,” Hale detailed. “We have been working with Crater Health District, our connection to the Virginia Department of Health, and we have been in contact with their emergency planners there and we have been participating in conference calls with them so we have the latest information.”

Speaking on some of what has been discussed during those conference calls, Hale said being able to get the right message out for the county and region as cases slowly beginning to be confirmed in the state.

“Right now, we are in a preparation phase for if and when it comes here,” the chief remarked. “We are depending on our health department to monitor and let us know if we have cases and where they are. We can’t do that, that is something the health department has to do.”

This week, dispatchers in the county’s communications center will begin screening calls for symptoms of the disease through additional caller questions so they can inform both medic units and hospitals that they are responding to someone that may have similar symptoms to COVID-19.

“This is so our EMS units can protect themselves and we can notify hospitals that we are bringing them someone that needs to be carefully evaluated. They may turn out not to have it but, we are not going to take any chances with it,” Hale detailed. “Our medics are all gearing up with the right personal protective gear so that we can respond to the cases right now. The hospitals are sharing information with us of how they want patients handled coming to their facilities who may have symptoms.”

When contacted, both hospitals declined requests for an interview with The Dinwiddie Monitor on how they are preparing for any possible cases of COVID-19 and how they will keep other patients and employees safe in the hospital if a confirmed case of the virus were to be brought to their medical facility, instead, providing pre-written statements Monday.

“Our clinical leaders have implemented protocols that are consistent with CDC guidelines, and we’re closely monitoring the situation across our ministry,” Jenna Green with Bon Secours Mercy Health, owners of Southside Regional Medical Center, said.

HCA Virginia, owners of JRMC and the Tri-City Emergency Room along Temple Avenue said their network of hospitals “have protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, and we are working diligently to help ensure we’re prepared for potential issues related to COVID-19,” while stressing their continued partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and CDC.

“Our preparedness efforts include reinforcing appropriate infection prevention protocols and guidance from the CDC, ensuring we have necessary supplies and equipment, and emergency planning.” HCA Virginia Director of Public Relations and Communications Malorie Burkett shared. “In addition, as we often do during heavy influenza outbreaks, visitor restrictions have been instituted in patient care areas. Starting last week, visitors and patients are being directed to use specific entrances to allow visitors to be screened.”

She added, “We have positioned supplies at points of entry, so that any potential symptomatic patient who arrives can be properly masked and immediately isolated to protect our colleagues and other patients. Additionally, patients will be limited to 2-3 visitors at a time.”

According to Hale, hospitals the county transports patients to have communicated to him they want to be notified if a patient showing symptoms similar to COVID-19 is being brought to their medical center, among other requests.

“Some of them want the patients masked when they arrive, some of them want to know so they can bring them in through more isolated areas to have them evaluated for risk before having them enter the entire hospital,” he explained. “Each hospital is a private business so they each have a slightly different way they want to do it but, they are reaching out and sharing how they want a patient handled who has respiratory symptoms.”

In terms of response, Hale said the county leans on guidance from the state and CDC in regards to best practices, to the type of equipment crews should be wearing, what screenings should be carried out, among others.

“All of that comes down from recommendations coming out of the federal and state health agencies,” he detailed. “We have been through this previously when we had SARS and Ebola, we have had practice runs on this over the years so, this is just dusting off those protocols in response.”

As health officials remind people to continue to practice basic hygiene – washing hands with hot water and soap or using hand sanitizer until soap and water are available – Richard Bland College is being proactive in its response to COVID-19 and the ongoing flu season, installing a series of hand sanitizer stations in all of the campus’ administrative, academic and residential buildings during this week’s spring break.

Hand sanitizer stations were installed at Richard Bland College’s various buildings as they implement measures to combat the spread of the flu and COVID-19. (RBC)

“Richard Bland College is actively educating and preparing for the potential risks and disruptions that the flu and COVID-19 could bring to the Commonwealth and the campus community,” RBC Police Chief Jeffrey Brown said. “The College wants to promote and encourage a culture of cleanliness and good health.”

The Virginia Department of Health offered the following tips to the community to minimize the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19:

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.

Information about COVID-19 is being shared as it becomes available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Also, consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health has also activated a public information line, 877-ASK-VDH3, for questions from residents about the novel coronavirus situation.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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