LOGAN — Local health and emergency management officials spoke to the Logan County Commission on Monday regarding the county’s preparedness for the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak if measures must be taken.
Roger Bryant, executive director of the Logan Emergency Ambulance Service Authority, along with Logan County Health Department Director Steve Browning said the two agencies have been working together to prepare for the disease for about a month. Bryant said the county’s health resources has an “influenza pandemic” plan in place that was developed in 2007.
“We’re as prepared in Logan County as anybody can be, and probably more prepared than most folks,” Bryant said. “Even though the nearest case to Logan is in Johnson City, Tennessee, we still need to take this very, very seriously.”
Bryant cited statistical numbers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to questions he and other health officials have been asked regarding why so many businesses and events have been shut down, canceled or postponed.
According to those CDC numbers, if one person is infected and there is no interception, 15 moves from that person could result in 14 million people being infected. Furthermore, it’s estimated that every person infected with the virus will be responsible for the deaths of the two people if no interception or plan is in place.
Bryant said the county’s emergency services are having weekly meetings with state health officials regarding how to address the situation.
“We’re not alone,” Bryant said. “This is something that we’re in contact with state officials. We’ve followed all the guidelines, we have a plan in place, but it is very, very serious, and everybody needs to be aware of it.”
Browning said the best approach currently is non-pharmaceutical precautionary intervention, such as proper hygiene, cleaning of both your household and workspace with approved cleaning products from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and social distancing of six feet or more. On top of that, anybody showing influenza-like symptoms should be sent home.
In light of the CDC’s recent recommendation that gatherings of 50 or more people should be canceled, Browning suggested that even meetings such as Monday’s county commission meeting may need altered. Later in the meeting, commissioner Danny Ellis floated the possibility of hosting the meetings at an alternate venue.
“As far as these type gatherings from today on into the next few weeks, we don’t know,” Ellis said. “We may have to find another venue to try to have these meetings. We don’t know. (County Commission President) Danny Godby and I discussed that earlier, and we can tentatively schedule county commissions on out into the next few weeks, but we don’t know what’s on the horizon, so as of right now, we will continue to move as we are now.”
Browning addressed the testing process for COVID-19, noting that neither the Logan County Health Department nor Logan Regional Medical Center currently have test kits available. If a person comes in with suspected COVID-19, they are given the regular influenza test, and the swabs are sent to the state lab for further testing, which can be up to a five- to 10-day wait for results.
Browning said for when “that day does arrive,” the Health Department is looking at establishing an off-site testing area so sick individuals do not have to enter the courthouse. He added that the department is exploring any option they can, but that no particular site has been chosen as of yet.
Furthermore, Browning said he receives upward of 20 calls per day from sick individuals asking if they can be tested. He said that certain criteria must be met before an individual will be tested, such as if that person has recently traveled to an area positive for COVID-19 or if they have come in contact with a carrier. He added that anyone feeling ill should self-quarantine for 14 days and self-monitor using the CDC’s checklist at www.CDC.gov.
Browning said these protocols are in place so emergency rooms and medical facilities are not overloaded.
“There’s not enough capabilities to test,” Browning said. “Nobody has the kits right now, or enough kits. I know the government’s going to push out a lot of them, but since the state of West Virginia has, at this time, zero confirmed cases, we’re not going to get a whole lot of tests very quickly. We’re going to be later down that road, and we’re going to continue to have to test with flu swabs and have that tested and sent off. We’re still a ways from being able to test it, and we’re not going to be able to test everybody, so they’re going to have to meet all the criteria. I know people are nervous, but that’s where that is.”
Logan County Administrator Rocky Adkins said precautions in county offices will soon be put into place, such as requiring workers to handle money with gloves.
Justin Turner, who serves as assistant administrator and director of physician recruitment, physician relations and industry marketing at Logan Regional Medical Center, outlined several visitor restrictions and screening guidelines the hospital will implement. The guidelines are as follows:
- Reduced entry points: Limited access to two points of entry for patients and visitors — main hospital entrance and main emergency department entrance.
- Screening guidelines: LRMC hospital and clinics have begun screening all individuals who enter facilities, per CDC guidelines — including patients, visitors and staff — based on potential respiratory symptoms and travel history.
- Updated visitor restrictions: All visitors should be 18 and older. Exceptions will be made for end-of-life and pediatric patients, and no visitors with any chronic medical conditions (this includes pregnancy and individuals requiring oxygen).
- The main entrance will remain open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Visitors must use the emergency department entrance outside of those hours. Signage will be posted around LRMC’s facilities notifying visitors and community of the new restrictions and guidelines.
The commission voted to table several financial requests for events that garner a large gathering of people. On the agenda were five financial requests: WVU Extension Service 4H Summer Camp; Recovery Group of Southern West Virginia; Huff Creek/Logan County Watershed Association’s Annual Youth Fish Day; Buffalo Creek Watershed’s Annual Children’s Fish Day; and the Buffalo Creek Memorial Library’s Annual Man on the Move and Kids on the Move walks.
Commissioners only granted one money request in the amount of $5,000 to the Recovery Group of Southern West Virginia, which does not involve a gathering of people.
“At this point in time, even though it bothers us to do this, a lot of these agencies are requesting money for these gatherings,” Godby said. “We’ve talked to authorities concerning this, and they’ve requested us to hold off on this until we see this situation with this coronavirus is under control.”
Commissioner Danny Ellis encouraged the events to be canceled.
Lastly, Diana Barnette, a candidate for commission in 2020 and owner of both Mr. Gatti’s Pizza and the Fountain Place Cinema 8 movie theater in Logan, said Cinema 8 has elected to not sell more than 50% of tickets to a film to allow for social distancing. Furthermore, Cinema 8 will not be receiving any new movies after Friday, March 20.