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Organizations throughout Stanly prepare for coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus continues to rapidly spread across the country, organizations and businesses throughout Stanly County continue to make preparations in the likelihood the virus spreads into the county.

No one in Stanly County is yet affected, but there are seven confirmed cases in the state and Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency March 10.

Wendy Growcock, public health education specialist with the Stanly County Health Department, encourages residents to follow guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These guidelines include:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces such as door knobs and light switches;
  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick;
  • Staying home if sick;
  • Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth;
  • Washing hands for 20 seconds;
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow instead of hands; and
  • Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water aren’t available.

Atrium Health is is expanding visitor restrictions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus. Effective immediately, only immediate family members, aged 13 and over, will be able to take part in hospital visiting hours unless deemed absolutely necessary by the patient’s healthcare team, according to an Atrium press release. Also anyone with flu-like symptoms will not be allowed in patient areas.

If people have respiratory symptoms, Atrium Health encourages them to sign up for a virtual visit — similar to FaceTime — where they can speak with a healthcare professional on the camera of their smartphone, tablet or computer. The provider can then make a diagnosis and call in a prescription. The virtual visits prevent infected people from going the doctor and risking the health of others, according to Atrium Health.

People can also find information regarding the coronavirus by going to atriumhealth.org/coronavirus.

Stanly County Schools, which has been in contact with the health department and has monitored information provided by the state and the CDC, is working to keep students and staff as safe as possible through preventive measures such as washing hands and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. SCS has information about the coronavirus and how people can stay safe on its website.

Central Office staff members are attending weekly meetings with the health department and the school system is finalizing plans for students to work remotely from home if the need arises, Beverly Pennington, director of student services, said.

“It’s a very dynamic event,” Pennington said about the spread of the virus. “It is ever-changing and as things change, we will reassess our current practices and plans and go from there.”

Superintendent Dr. Jeff James said the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended people stay away from large crowds, though no games or field trips have been canceled at the moment. James is looking at rescheduling field trips to a later date. The Central Office executive team will meet to discuss plans further.

Helen Nance, chief administrative officer at Gray Stone Day School, said the school has a full-time nurse on site who is making sure students are prepared and aware of the virus. Custodians are washing tables and chairs with cleaning agents. Teachers are wiping doorknobs and classrooms daily, she said.

Gray Stone recently sent an email to parents informing them the school needs more cleaning supplies, especially Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer.

“Gray Stone has conducted online learning days for several years when we are out of school for weather-related closures,” Nance said via email. “With this in place, we are all set up to have online learning days if schools should close for any reason. We can sustain this for a couple of weeks or more if need be and students will not miss their education.”

On March 6, Pfeiffer University updated its website regarding coronavirus preparations. The university instructs students and employees who have traveled to countries with a CDC level-3 (China, Iran, Italy and South Korea) or level-2 (Japan) warning to self-quarantine for 14 days following their return to the United States. All university-sponsored travel to affected areas have also been canceled.

Pfeiffer stresses that “anyone who must engage in personal travel to these areas or has already traveled to these areas should inform the University Health Services by contacting Jennifer Carrick, NP-C at 704-463-3425.”

University officials continue to monitor the situation locally and around the world. They are in contact with state officials and are tracking information released by the CDC, North Carolina Division of Public Health and the U.S. State Department.

Stanly Community College President Dr. John Enamait said even before the coronavirus landed in the United States, SCC was monitoring it in China and making preparations.

“Approximately three weeks ago, we proactively sent out messaging to our faculty and staff and our students strongly encouraging personal hygiene” such as washing hands, Enamait said.

SCC’s senior staff met about a week and a half ago, Enamait said, and identified plans of action if the need arises, including having students operate remotely and restricting student travel to affected areas. He sent an email last week to all employees stressing the importance of washing hands and following CDC guidelines.

Due to Cooper’s emergency declaration, Enamait sent an email to employees explaining that all college-related travel is suspended until future notice and when possible, teleconferencing should be used as a substitute for travel. Classes will still operate normally and the college is not restricting gatherings on campus.

He said it is difficult to make concrete plans about how to respond to a crisis that has not yet entered the county, adding that the potential severity of the impact will be what ultimately drives the college’s response.

The Stanly County Senior Center offers hand sanitizer in the lobby and officials are regularly cleaning door knobs, said Becky Weemhoff, director of Stanly County Senior Services. They are also receiving and sharing updates from the health department.

“I can assure you every time we have food here we are going to have hand sanitizer available for people to use,” Weemhoff said.

As of now, no group activities or events have been canceled at the Senior Center in Albemarle or Locust.

Stanly County Family YMCA CEO George Crooker said the YMCA will continue to clean door knobs and stairwell railings as well as increase the use of its fogger — a device that creates a mist that falls onto exposed surfaces — in high-traffic areas like the weight rooms and locker rooms.

He sent an email to YMCA members Monday, detailing the need to practice good hygiene. The email also said Y leaders across N.C. are discussing the latest updates from the CDC, the World Health Organization and the state.

“We’re going to be extra vigilant to get the building as clean as we can,” especially the high traffic areas, Crooker said.

Lutheran Services Carolina, which operates several senior living facilities across the state, including Trinity Place in Albemarle, released a statement about the virus saying that while it’s working with state and national associations along with the CDC, “as experienced providers of senior services, especially in skilled care settings, LSC is aware that COVID-19 can be particularly devastating to the elderly.”

LSC’s nursing homes across the state are taking measures to “prevent the virus from entering,” which include “limiting and restricting visitors, postponing community outings with residents and working to prevent entrance into the facility of staff who exhibit any possible COVID-19 symptoms or have prior exposure.”

Other measures put into place to limit risk at the facilities include hand hygiene at entrances, remote communication for residents and screening of visitors and staff members and the frequent hand washing.

LSC ends its statement with the call for all citizens to wash their hands “as if their lives depended on it.”

Trinity Place has also postponed a public reception set for March 22 to limit possible exposure of the virus.

The virus is spreading quickly 

The virus, also known as COVID-19, originated during an outbreak in Wuhan, China late last year and has affected more than 100 countries, according to the New York Times. So far in the United States, more than 1,000 people have been infected as of March 10, with 31 people having died, according to the Times. Already 39 states and the District of Columbia have reported cases.

There are now seven confirmed cases of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in North Carolina, with five people from Wake County testing “presumptively positive” for the virus, according to a North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services press release sent March 9. All those infected are being quarantined in their homes. Of the seven cases, six are from Wake County, while the other is from Chatham County. There are also nine cases reported in South Carolina.

The cases in the state prompted Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency due to the outbreak. The declaration “encourages insurers to make testing available for little or no cost” and “expands ability to hire health professionals to respond to virus,” Cooper said.

“I ask all North Carolinians to take this seriously,” Cooper said. “Anyone can carry the virus to loved ones or friends who could become ill.”

Cooper added that the health and safety of all people in the state “is our top priority.”

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the CDC. Common respiratory symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The people most at risk are the elderly and those suffering from underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. More than 15 deaths had already been tied to the Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland, Wash., where dozens of residents, staff members and visitors were sickened.

The CDC has encouraged individuals to prepare for the virus. Recommendations say to “create a household plan of action,” including gathering emergency contact numbers and considering how to help those who may have complications. The CDC also recommends looking ahead for resources “that provide mental health or counseling services, food and other supplies.”

The CDC also stresses practicing good hygiene and designating a sick room, preparing to have children home if schools close and checking in with employers about their plans.

The coronavirus has also severely hampered the national economy as stocks suffered its worst single-day decline in more than a decade on March 9.

Individuals with questions about the coronavirus may call the North Carolina Division of Public Health’s coronavirus call line at 1-866-462-3821. The helpline is staffed by the North Carolina Poison Control 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Those with emergencies should call 911. To learn more, visit ncdhhs.gov.

Contact reporter Chris Miller at 704-982-2122.

 

 

 

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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