MEETING OF THE MINDS: Officials meet to discuss COVID-19 coronavirus preparations

Published 9:25 pm Monday, March 16, 2020

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The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) issued new guidance on Monday advising people to avoid or cancel gatherings of 50 people or more – President Donald Trump further advised Monday afternoon to avoid gatherings of 10 or more.

The 70 government and emergency officials gathered on the second floor of the Pike County Health Department on Monday afternoon was outside of those guidelines, but they were together to discuss the needs of the agencies before the COVID-19 coronavirus reaches Pike County.

“It shows you how everybody is concerned about this and we all want to do our part in the response,” said Peggy Hagler, coordinator of the ADPH Southeastern Alabama emergency preparedness team. “We have been on high alert since mid-January and things have gone from changing every day to every hour to now every minute.”

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The room was packed with representatives of many different governments and departments including the mayors of Troy, Brundidge and Goshen, local fire and law enforcment chiefs, leading officials from Troy Regional Medical Center, heads of local nursing homes and assisted living facilities and more.

Hagler encouraged everyone to follow the most recent guidelines from the ADPH and President Donald Trump including consistent handwashing and sanitizing, social distancing of four to six feet apart, and avoiding large gatherings of people.

Rick Smith, new CEO of TRMC, said the hospital is one of the collection sites for coronavirus testing, but that potential patients should not just show up at the hospital.

Instead, patients who show symptoms should contact their primary healthcare providers to go through the proper channels so that the tests go to those who truly need it in an orderly fashion that endangers as few people as possible.

“We have collected 10 or so samples since Friday,” Smith said. “Not all of them have come back, but the ones that have come back were all negative.”

Ivy Creek Family Care is also doing testing.

There is still no confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus in Pike County although 29 cases of the virus had been confirmed statewide at publishing time on Friday. The samples collected take 24 to 72 hours to be returned.

Sheriff Russell Thomas shared what the Pike County Jail has been doing to get out in front of the virus.

“We have invested in digital thermometers to check all officers, deputies and inmates,” Thomas said. “If they have a fever of 100.4 or higher, they cannot enter the jail.”

Thomas explained that the virus entering the jail could cause much bigger problems if inmates had to be quarantined. Already, an inmate from Lee County has been denied access to the facility after finding a fever of 102 upon his screening.

Representatives of Noble Manor and local nursing homes also shared how they are locking down visits to protect the more susceptible elderly patients. The facilities are keeping entrants limited to staff and vendors and are cutting out gatherings of the seniors, including communal dining.

The officials also discussed how to ensure access to supplies including hand sanitizer and disinfectant to keep public offices open and safe for the staff and citizens accessing those services.

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said the community can get through the virus, but it requires remaining calm.

“If we practice good hygiene and do these things that we have been talking about, we’re going to be able to get through this together,” Reeves said. “It’s important if you’re sick to stay home, and for your immediate family to self-quarantine as well. The most important thing we can do to keep this thing level is to settle down and stay home if sick. A whole lot worse can happen to us if we get too bent out of shape about it.”