By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, WV – Before Wednesday’s County Commission meeting proceeded as normal, the McDowell County Health Department informed Commissioners about preparation efforts for the ongoing Coronavirus COVID-19.
“We are trying to get on top of this the best we can in preparation of the virus hitting West Virginia or McDowell County,” said JJ Rose of the McDowell County Health Department.
Earlier this week, Health Department officials met with other agencies including the 911 Center, EMS, Hospitals, and the Board of Education, seeking to forma plan to handle the scenario together.
“In most emergencies, this is bigger than one agency,” said Rose. ”If and when that does hit here, we want to make sure the responders are safe as well. That’s a problem in other places dealing with this problem.”
Rose explained that a protocol was in place that would inform all the agencies if someone arrived in the County with a potential exposure to the virus.
“They would be under self-isolation for 14 days, and the Health Department will keep in touch with that person or family during that time,” said Rose. “At the end of the isolation period, everything is fine and if there are no temperature spikes, no symptoms, they will be out from under that.”
If symptoms began to show, however, the Health Department would contact 911 and the hospital to communicate the severity of the situation.
“That will ensure the people driving the ambulance will be prepared when they get there,” said Rose. ”We also will contact the hospital to give them a heads up that this person arriving may be subject to the coronavirus.”
Protecting the elderly population across McDowell County is one of the highest concerns for the local agencies.
“We have talked with nursing homes,” said Rose. “Unfortunately, the virus is affecting the elderly population with underlying conditions heavier than anyone else. We want to make sure the nursing homes are prepared for that.”
The Health Department also reached out to Commission on Aging Director Dr. Donald Reed.
“Seniors come to him for lunch but also his workers go out into the community to deliver food,” said Rose. “We want to make sure his workers are safe and the people they see are protected.”
Statistics say 80% of people coming into contact with COVID-19 will think its a cold or won’t show any symptoms. Even without symptoms, Rose warned that the virus can spread so they want everyone taking every precaution they can.
“As of right now, the State of West Virginia has no cases,” said Rose. “Five total cases have been sent out to the CDC. At the time they were taken, our lab in Charleston was not prepared for the testing yet. Three have come back negative and we’re still waiting on two of them from the CDC.”
Recently, the State Medical lab announced it was able to test for the virus, with 750 kits available at last Rose had been in contact with them.
“Commercial labs will be going online soon to help process tests as well,” said Rose. “We’ve not seen a situation where someone that needed a test has not been tested.”
Rose explained that West Virginia had 4 protocols calling for COVID-19 testing, with physicians also having the ability to call for a test if they suspect viral potential in their patient.
1. Fever, lower respiratory illness, cough, shortness of breath that’s come into contact with someone
who has been confirmed within the last 14 days.
2. Fever and lower respiratory illness who requires hospitalization and has a history of going to an affected area.
3. Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness, requiring hospitalization without knowing where the sickness was contracted.
4. Showing symptoms with a negative flu and respiratory panel.
“They’ve not seen anyone with the flu and the coronavirus at the same time,” said Rose. “They’ll take these panels first, then they will look into testing for COVID19.”
The older population is the focus of concern because the virus surprisingly has not had much effect on children.
“They’re the most unlikely to get bad symptoms from the virus,” said Rose.
A resident attending Wednesday’s meeting questioned if it was safe to travel.
“I will go with what the CDC has told us. If you’re in that older population, especially with underlying conditions, it may not be the best idea now,” said Rose. “You can take all the precautions but it’s not so much what you do, it’s what everyone else does.”
The CDC recommends anyone in those categories may want to avoid super large crowds, cruise ships or any other situations where they may be confined with a lot of people in close contact.
As far as quarantine is concerned, it will be on a voluntary basis unless resistance is met.
“It will be voluntary at first, but in the case of someone breaking quarantine, health officers can enforce quarantine required by law,” said Rose.
“Warden Mutter was telling us they stopped visitation at the Jail because we keep statewide inmates and people travel here to visit them,” said Patterson.
“You cannot know where everyone else has been,” said Rose.
“Is there anything the Commission can do, like form a Task Force that we can stay in touch about this,” asked Patterson.
“If it get to a certain point, we may need your help. I think it would be great to have everyone informed,” said Rose.
For more information concerning COVID-19, please call the Coronavirus Information Hotline at 1-800-887-4304; visit the State Health Department’s website, www.coronavirus.wv.gov., State Board of Education’s website www.wvde.us/corvid19; or the CDC’s site at www.cdc.gov/covid19.
“We don’t want to cause panic, but we do want to prepare for this,” said Rose.