Local public safety leaders monitor coronavirus as state cases grow

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 11, 2020 | 11:33 a.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – With nearly a 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 several new cases, 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 Prince George, Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens 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 are on conference calls with Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management as they talk about measures that have been implemented across the state,” he detailed.

As part of those preparations, Owens said he has reminded first responders in the county about various screening processes as they respond to calls for service, particularly involving those who may have respiratory or flu-like symptoms.

“We want to make sure [those patients] are masked, as long as it doesn’t compromise any airways and also making sure our personnel are masked as well and have the proper personal protective equipment to be able to respond to those types of incidents,” the director explained.

Regarding transports to area hospitals, Owens noted they have already received guidance from those entities that details how patients exhibiting respiratory or flu-like symptoms should be admitted to their hospitals.

“Both local hospitals have submitted some guidelines from their end to make sure certain things are done and communicated before arrival there.” the director said, referring to Petersburg’s Southside Regional and Hopewell’s John Randolph Medical Centers. “If we do come into contact with anyone with those symptoms, we would be monitoring alongside the hospital to follow up on the testing process and making sure our medic units are properly decontaminated as we would with any other call but, just making sure we have the proper decontamination procedures in place and trying to be safe as possible as to not spread it any further than it has already.”

He added that dispatchers have also been briefed on screening questions so first responders can have as much information as possible when responding to a scene.

When contacted, both hospitals declined requests for an interview with The Prince George Journal 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 Owens, information gleaned during outbreaks of H1N1 and other diseases used to formulate the county’s response to those cases is being used and augmented as they engage with local, state, and federal health officials.

“We have been through things similar to this before so, we are refreshing that to make sure it applies to the situation we are dealing with right now,” he said. “Making sure our folks remember to take those extra precautions. Our folks are really good at taking universal precautions anyway for medical calls but we want to make sure we increase that awareness, and sharing that with the hospitals so they can move forward with the proper treatment and testing.”

He added the county is prepared if some form of quarantine has to be implemented if a large number of cases were reported in Prince George.

“We are working with state officials and our partners in the region,” Owens explained. “It takes a lot of resources to do those kinds of things so, it would cause us to enact some of those processes to get additional resources in, depending on how widespread it could get.”

“We are as prepared as we can be with the resources that we have and we are continuing to monitor the situation as we work with our health and state-level officials to make sure we are on top of it and doing everything we can,” the director closed.

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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