The Transylvania Times -

Local Officials Prepare For Virus – Transylvania County, NC

 

Last updated 3/2/2020 at 2:40pm

County officials, law enforcement, health officials and others met last Thursday to, among other things, discuss the coronavirus. (Courtesy photo)

Transylvania County officials, educators and health care providers have been preparing local response efforts in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak for weeks now, but the risk of contracting the virus in the county is "very low," according to Tara Rybka, Transylvania Public Health's public information officer.

She said the situation is evolving rapidly and that county officials are updating protocols for responding to a disease outbreak.

As of this morning, North Carolina did not have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, while in the U.S. there were 88 cases of those confirmed to have the virus and two deaths.

On Thursday, representatives from Transylvania Public Health (TPH), Emergency Management, 911-Emer-gency Communication, EMS, Animal Control, the Sheriff's Office, Transylvania Regional Hospital and regional public health specialists met for an "Epi Team" meeting to discuss the coronavirus and how to coordinate a response in the event of the disease spreading to Western North Carolina.

The team meets quarterly, and one goal of these meetings is to develop partnerships and protocols that enable the agencies to better respond to disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies, according to a news release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus, also identified as COVID-19, meets some of the criteria of a pandemic, but the risk is dependent on exposure.

"There's a lot of communication that has been quietly and methodically going on behind the scenes to keep everybody in agency leadership roles abreast of how this situation and how the data and recommended best practices are evolving," said Elaine Russell, TPH's director. "I know that in the coming weeks our agency is going to be working more in-depth with local community partners to help them analyze what their plans and what their potential responses might need to be, should the situation become more complicated and we start to see a local impact."

Rob Blake, public health preparedness coordinator, said, "I think we are well prepared at this stage. It is a rapidly evolving situation and we're keeping track of the changes as they come to us...We would be well prepared to deal with an individual case that would present itself at a health care facility, for example."

Transylvania Regional Hospital (TRH) representative Nancy Lindell said the hospital is always working to prepare itself for emergencies, including an infectious disease like the coronavirus.

"TRH is equipped with several negative pressure rooms, which contain airborne contaminants within the space, to isolate patients diagnosed with COVID-19," Lindell said. "We have also implemented protocols across Mission Health for screening for potential COVID-19 patients and isolation procedures for patients who may have a respiratory infection. Additionally, we have implemented visitor policies to prohibit people who may have a respiratory illness from visiting."

Lindell said TRH is working to reinforce protocols for hand hygiene and proper use for personal protective equipment such as gowns, face shields, N-95 respirators and linens.

Transylvania County Schools is working closely with public health officials to prepare for a possible response to the coronavirus.

"If any cases of COVID-19 appear in our area, the first people to know will be Transylvania Public Health," Kevin Smith, the school system's public information officer said. "We will rely on their professional expertise and communication to determine our next steps. At school, we do not have a threshold number or level of risk for closing or altering the school schedule. Any such decision will be made in coordination with public health officials, who consistently work with Transylvania County Schools through incidents of infectious diseases, such as the measles outbreak a couple years ago."

Smith also said there are scenarios for using school resources as a part of a community-wide response and recovery to an outbreak.

Local public health preparedness staff has been working for more than a year to review, update and improve all their county emergency response documents into a single All-Hazards Plan that addresses a range of topics, including pandemic influenza, isolation and quarantine, medical countermeasures and more, the TPH release said.

TPH is also reviewing emergency response plans shared by the Transylvania County school system.

Russell said that with coronavirus the elder population appears to be more at risk, and given the population of older residents in the county, it is "something we want to keep in mind and watch to see how the situation evolves."

However, for those who have not had exposure to people who have traveled to China recently, the risk of contracting the virus is still very low.

Based on research of similar viruses, health officials suspect that coronavirus spreads through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.

Coronaviruses can survive for some time on surfaces, but they are readily destroyed with diluted bleach or regular household disinfectants when used as directed.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there about this outbreak," Rybka said. "It's important to get your information from trusted sources, like the CDC, the World Health Organization and your local health department."

The CDC and TPH recommend everyday actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including corona-virus:

•Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

•If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

•Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

•Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

•Stay home when you are sick

•Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash.

•Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

"And if you haven't gotten a flu shot this year, we really recommend it," Rybka added. "If we do happen to see community spread of coronavirus, you certainly do not want to get it and the flu."

For children, Smith said it is important for parents to practice good hygiene with their kids, keep children home if they are exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms, and not send a child back to school unless they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Transylvania County Manager Jaime Laughter said county's government's job is to protect the public health and to help the community manage an emergency situation.

"We are working across county departments to make sure that we are prepared to navigate the community through a potential outbreak while also making sure that the critical county services we provide citizens are able to continue," she said. "This includes making sure that our employees are prepared and that we take measures to protect employees in addition to serving and protecting the public at large. We take these responsibilities very seriously and continue to leverage the expertise of our public health department as we prepare."

"Public health communicable diseases are our bread and butter," Russell said. "This is something that we think about and prepare for continually regardless of what the disease is."

 
 

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