County health and welfare professionals, law enforcement officers, fire departments, school officials, along with representatives of Wyoming County Emergency Services and Health Department met Monday afternoon to determine a path forward in the face of COVID-19.
“It is much more important for us to overreact than to under-react,” emphasized Dean Meadows, Emergency Services director.
The situation is changing daily, Meadows said. He encouraged checking the 911 Facebook page for updates. The information there will come from state and federal sources and “be truthful,” he explained.
As part of the pandemic plan, the county Health Department and Emergency Services have been cast as the lead agencies, Fred Cox, Health Department administrator, noted.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about this,” Cox said.
The virus only hit in December, less than three months ago, in China and spread like wildfire. Now, the epicenter is in Europe, Cox said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, only one case had been confirmed in West Virginia, in the Eastern Panhandle.
Some will have to self-isolate, Cox said.
“We will follow those folks,” he said of the department.
“Mild illnesses can be treated at home,” he said.
Some who may have to shelter at home may not have the means to get food or medications.
The Health Department and law enforcement agencies will be working together to provide help with those situations, Cox noted.
Mike Goode, Pineville Volunteer Fire Department chief, said four fire departments were represented at the meeting and that firemen would also help in emergency situations through the 911/Emergency Services center and the Health Department.
Law enforcement and EMS personnel are at the front lines, making them among the most vulnerable.
Cox suggested they maintain social distancing from possible virus victims, ask if the person is experiencing respiratory distress and/or has a fever, recently traveled out of the country or to an area in this country that has been hard hit by COVID-19 or come into contact with someone else who has – which is the same criteria for testing.
Wash and sanitize your hands, and follow safety protocols, Cox told them.
Cox also suggested residents should check on their elderly neighbors, and those who are disabled or frail – who are the most susceptible to serious health consequences from the virus.
The best defense against the virus is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitizer; keep your hands away from your face; maintain social distancing (about six feet); avoid crowds; avoid shaking hands; contain sneezes and coughs in your elbow; if you’re sick, stay at home; call your health care provider first, then go to the clinic if advised to do so; and sanitize shared surfaces like door knobs, handles, keyboards, etc. often.
Gatherings should now be limited to no more than 10, according to officials.
A central testing site in the county is expected to be operational soon. However, with a limited number of tests expected to be provided, only those who have been referred by a physician will be tested.
Cox lauded the county’s physicians and their staffs and school personnel who have volunteered to assist with the testing.
“They stepped up to the plate,” Cox said. “That’s what this county is all about.”
He also lauded the county Commission, who readily agreed to pay for a commercial-size tent to use for the testing.
Those who have one positive result from the test must then have two negative results before he/she will be released to go back to work or from isolation, Dr. Sam Muscari Jr., county health officer, said.
On March 16, there are no tests available in the county, Cox said, though he had requested them.
“This is real,” Jason Mullins, commission president, emphasized.
“We’re protecting your families, your parents, your grandparents” with these measures, Mullins said.
The preventative measures are about “flattening the curve,” Muscari explained. If only 2 percent of those infected die, that could still result in millions of people nationwide, according to officials.
With no hospital or urgent care facility, Wyoming County is already behind the curve, Muscari noted, just as Italy which has a 6 percent death rate from COVID-19.
Those who need current information about COVID-19 should first phone the state’s coronavirus hot line at 1-800-887-4304, Meadows said. The phone line is staffed 24/7 and can answer any questions residents may have.
Unprecedented measures are being instituted across the county to protect the most vulnerable county residents.
• With schools closed until at least March 27, bus drivers delivered meals to students last week. Additionally, teachers and aides were onboard to provide NTID/weather/snow packets for students who needed them. The drivers also served as a point of contact for students who might need clothing or personal hygiene products, according to John Henry, student services and attendance director. This week, no bus deliveries will be made. Feeding sites are located at Baileysville Elementary and Middle, along with Mullens, Oceana and Pineville middle schools on Monday, Wednesday and Friday only.
• Beginning today, March 23, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College is extending spring break by one week for students. Faculty will be on campus making preparations to offer classes online beginning Monday, March 30. Information will be sent to students on how to access their classes.
• Muscari said screening procedures at medical clinics should now be conducted outside so that patients who only need refills on their prescriptions can avoid contamination.
• Masks are not helpful unless you are already sick, Muscari noted.
• Wyoming Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in New Richmond, has suspended all visitors unless a resident is dying. The staff is working to provide online facetime visits for residents and families. Group activities and group dining have been suspended. Employees are also being screened before entering and residents are screened twice daily.
• The Wyoming County Council on Aging Center, in Mullens, is now closed, but is offering grab-and-go meals to those over age 60. Those who are transported to the center by the Council on Aging have the option to receive delivered meals. For more information, phone 304-294-8800.
• Oceana Dental Center is seeing only emergency cases. Employees are being screened.
• The Oceana Dialysis Center is screening patients as they enter the building and as they exit. No one can accompany the patients inside. Employees are also being screened.
• Kissel Family Optometry is asking patients if they’ve had a fever in the last 48 hours to reschedule appointments and, as of Monday, are limiting those accompanying patients to one family member. Those measures may be increased.
• Twin Falls State Park has also increased cleaning standards. Shared surfaces are now cleaned every two hours, Superintendent Scott Durham said. The park remains open and Durham encouraged residents to use the park “to recreate themselves as they always have.”
• Patrols have been increased around all school facilities, pharmacies, and medical clinics.
• The courthouse is following the Health Department lead in protecting visitors and employees. More stringent measures are expected to be implemented.
• Court proceedings are limited to emergencies only, according to Circuit Clerk David Stover. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has directed state courts to suspend all but emergency proceedings through April 10.
• Grocery stores and pharmacies are supposed to remain open through the duration of the emergency, Meadows said.