COVID-19 Reaches Rockbridge

COVID-19 Reaches Rockbridge

FIVE-MINUTE parking signs have been placed on cones outside of several Lexington businesses recently for area residents to pick up their orders. Few cars were parked along city streets Monday afternoon as the governor announced more restrictions on businesses in the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Darryl Woodson photo)

Two Confirmed Cases Announced

Rumors about local coronavirus infections have spread like the virus itself; since early March there have been unfounded reports of cases in Buena Vista and Lexington, at local colleges and at the hospital.

But now the coronavirus has truly come to our area. Two cases have now been confirmed.

Gone are the jokes about toilet paper and the hope that COVID-19 might not come to Rockbridge. Instead, prayers are now being sent up for the two area residents.

The first of the two cases was announced in a press release sent out jointly by Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter, Lexington City Manager Jim Halasz and Buena Vista Interim City Manager Jay Scudder late Friday afternoon.

Halasz told The News-Gazette Monday that the first affected person is a female Lexington resident in her 60s who traveled overseas. She has not been hospitalized, and is presumably self-quarantining at home. Since then, a member of the affected woman’s household, also a woman in her 60s who traveled overseas, has also become infected, he said.

The announcement of the first cases in the Rockbridge area loosely coincided with stricter local and statewide measures for containment.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday that restaurants have to shutter their dining rooms and transition to take-out or delivery only. Movie theaters, salons, barbershops and fitness must close outright.

Nonessential stores can remain open, but they must not have more than 10 people in them at a time, including staff; essential stores, like grocery stores, pharmacies and banks, can stay open but they must adhere to social distancing.

Both public and private schooling was suspended for the remainder of this school year, and a ban on all public gatherings of 10 or more people was announced. The governor also urged Virginians to avoid all nonessential travel.

The new restrictions took effect at midnight last night.

While such efforts may seem extreme, they are paramount to the health of our districts, Central Shenandoah Health Director Laura Kornegay told The News-Gazette Monday.

“The major emphasis is at this point going to be those social distancing efforts,” Kornegay said. “What each individual does in terms of social distancing is really going to impact the community as a whole, and I certainly hope people are taking that message seriously.”

As of yesterday afternoon, there were 290 confirmed cases and six deaths in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

As the number of cases increases daily, local hospitals are preparing for the possibility that their facilities could be overwhelmed.

“Each of the hospitals [in Virginia] has an emergency operation plan. And I think those plans include alternate care sites,” Kornegay said.

Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington has 25 beds, according to Hannah Curtis, a public relations specialist at Carilion Clinic. But since the hospital is a part of the larger Carilion system, it will have access to more resources.

“We literally have thousands of employees across the region engaged in preparations for an outbreak of COVID-19,” Curtis told The News-Gazette.

Curtis added said that actions such as postponing non-essential surgeries or procedures will free up clinical staff, bed space and supplies if needed.

Effective yesterday, Carilion providers are also reviewing patient records prior to outpatient, non-hospital encounters to determine if an in-person visit is needed. If an in-person visit is not needed, providers will contact the patient to coordinate a telephone or telemedicine video visit.

This follows the Carilion announcement earlier this month postponing all nonessential surgeries and procedures.

While it is widely known that there has been a shortage of test kits in the U.S., Korengay said that the situation is improving. And as more and more kits become available, Carilion is exploring the possibility of opening testing sites in various communities.

Call Centers Set Up

While the protocol for how we interact with doctors, hospitals. strangers and public spaces in general is in flux, Virginia health districts have established accessible and reliable authorities through public call centers.

Last Sunday the centers were launched; they allow citizens the chance to pose questions, and officials the chance to dispelrumors and misinformation. The Central Shenandoah Health District line is (855) 949-8378, and it serves the Rockbridge area.

Callers can learn more about testing resources, standard protocol for those feeling ill, and state and local conditions, which are changing rapidly.

Augusta Health and Carilion have followed suit, opening up their own hotlines. Augusta Health allows callers to (540) 332- 5122 to discuss their concerns with a nurse. A Monday update from the medical provider reported 190 calls since opening, with one-fourth of those calls requiring referral to the assessment center for screening.

Carilion’s call line (1-866-604-2873) does not make appointments or testing referrals for community members, but it does answer questions about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, available resources and the Carilion COVID-19 response.

Other State Steps

Statewide, Northam announced on March 19 that access to health care for Medicaid members and low-income residents would be increased.

For instance, co-payments for services covered by Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) will be eliminated, and this includes COVID-19 and related treatment.

Medicaid members may now also get a 90-day supply of their prescriptions, a 60-day increase from the standard 30-day supply.

For small businesses and nonprofits, Northam announced that low-interest federal disaster loans will be available for up to $2 million from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The News-Gazette

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