by Kate Evans & Trish Rudder
As the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 grows in the United States, local and state officials are reviewing their plans for dealing with a possible outbreak of the virus.
Dr. Terence Reidy, Health Officer for the Berkeley-Morgan Health Department, said local public health officials are looking to the Bureau for Public Health and the CDC for guidelines about the virus.
“While the biology of the infection is similar in different communities, the resources and behaviors are not the same,” Dr. Reidy said.
He emphasized the importance of people relying on accurate sources of information about COVID-19.
“Gossip and rumor control are major problems that can lead to misunderstanding and dangerous reactions to situations,” he said. “The West Virginia State hotline will be another resource people can use to check the accuracy of information they hear or read about the COVID-19 infection.”
The hotline number is 1-800-887-4304.
Morgan County Schools
Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said last Friday that the school system is monitoring the status of the coronavirus and is following the guidance of local and state health authorities. The school safety team met last Wednesday. The school district has a pandemic plan in place, which they reviewed. Everyday they’re getting more information, which is similar to a flu prevention approach.
Tuttle said they just put a message out to remind staff and students to wash hands with soap and water, not to share food and drink and to cover coughs and sneezes. They’re still encouraging hand-washing often, proper hygiene and coughing into elbows and shoulders.
Exercise, a good diet and a healthy lifestyle are also recommended. Custodians are being encouraged to disinfect high-traffic areas with special care.
While Berkeley Springs High School and Paw Paw Schools grades 9-12 have Chromebooks, some students at other schools have issues with spotty, inconsistent, slow or no internet access at home for online classroom lessons if schools would have to close long-term with an outbreak, Tuttle said.
State School Superintendent Clayton Burch said the Department of Education is in ongoing contact with all 55 counties preparing for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.
Districts are reviewing their infectious disease outbreak and emergency communications plans. Administrators are reminded to be diligent in cleaning facilities and to advise families to keep sick children home, as they have throughout the seasonal flu period.
A state Department of Education webpage about the coronavirus has been established for families at wvde.us/covid19.
War Memorial Hospital
Dr. Gerald Bechamps, Vice-President of Medical Affairs for War Memorial Hospital and Hampshire Memorial Hospital, said there are no visitor limitations at this time at War Memorial Hospital.
Protocols are in place for care of patients with suspected coronavirus or other infectious disease at their hospitals and outpatient clinics. An infectious disease nurse practitioner monitors both West Virginia hospitals.
Isolation rooms are available for infectious disease patients at the hospitals. The rooms have negative air pressure that won’t let air into the rest of the hospital ventilation system, Bechamps noted.
In West Virginia, members of the public with general questions about the COVID-19 coronavirus can call a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-887-4304.
Cases worldwide, in U.S.
As of noon Monday, March 9 there were 105,586 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally with 80,859 of the cases and 3,100 deaths in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Outside of China the virus has spread to 101 countries, territories and areas with 24,727 laboratory-confirmed cases and 484 deaths.
John Hopkins’ website had 62,392 people as being recovered from the coronavirus worldwide.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) listed 423 cases and 19 deaths with 35 states including the District of Columbia reporting cases of the virus as of Monday afternoon.
Case numbers change by the hour and lag behind on some official sites.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency on Friday, March 6 after announcing three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Montgomery County. Two more cases have emerged since. Pennsylvania has six reported cases.
Currently West Virginia has no cases of the virus. As of March 9, five people in the state have been tested for coronavirus. Two of them have tested negative. Virginia has one to five confirmed cases.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced a state of preparedness on Thursday, March 5 after meeting with key members of his administration and state medical experts.
Justice said proper hand-washing and good hygiene was critical and key to limiting the spread of any virus or disease.
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Director Bill Crouch said their agency is closely monitoring this outbreak and working with federal, state and local public health partners to inform, prepare and respond to localized COVID-19 outbreaks. DHHR set up the website www.coronavirus.wv.gov.
The DHHR announced it is now able to test for the virus in the state.
The West Virginia National Guard is prepared to assist across the state with medical isolation, decontamination and supply deliveries to medical facilities and communities.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever along with shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, said World Health Organization (WHO) officials.
WHO noted that 80% of the cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been mild with cold-like or flu-like symptoms.
Some more vulnerable
Older people and those with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes seem to be more vulnerable to developing severe illness from the virus. People with the COVID-19 disease may become ill anywhere from two days to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Because the virus, like many illnesses, sickens older people more severely, local agencies that work with the elderly or infirm are paying attention to virus prevention.
Officials with Stonerise Healthcare, which owns Berkeley Springs’ nursing home facility, said the 120-bed skilled nursing center are following CDC guidelines as the virus moves across communities.
“Our staff are well trained in managing a variety of infections and most of the procedures we use within Stonerise facilities are included in the recommendations from the CDC to best manage the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) concern.
“We are taking every step possible to keep our staff and residents safe including monitoring staff and visitors for following hand washing procedures and asking visitors who are sick to visit their loved ones on a different day. We are staying in close contact with our local and state health departments and following ongoing guidance from the CDC,” said Kristin Anderson, spokeswoman for Stonerise.
Using guidelines from the Bureau of Senior Services, the Senior Life Services of Morgan County is very proactive in alerting its clients about staying well in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
Executive director Tammy Kees said handouts and flyers at the Senior Center from the West Virginia Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health tell clients “don’t shake hands,” and instead bump knuckles or nod to each other, are the safe ways to greet each other.
The Center also provides liquid sanitizer on each table along with napkins and a box of tissues.
The seniors know if they need to cough or sneeze, they should now grab a napkin or tissues and cough or sneeze in it and immediately through it away. Sneezing or coughing in the front of your elbow is no longer recommended since germs can last days, it was determined by health officials.
“We’re their family,” Kees said of many seniors who use the facility. Seniors have been instructed to stay home if they have flu-like symptoms or a fever.
Kees said seniors are more respectful and knowledgeable than younger folks. They watch the news on television instead of social media and are informed about the virus.
Kees said she and Starting Points executive director Audrey Morris have compared handouts and “we’re both on the same page” on how to alert their clients with the best ways to stay well and safe from contracting this or any virus.