Caldwell County officials representing multiple agencies met Friday at the county’s Office of Emergency Management to address COVID-19 and organized plans to prevent the spread of infection in the area.
Roughly 40 representatives attended from city and county government, health care, first response, education and utility sectors.
Regarding the spread of misinformation on the virus, Doug James, Caldwell Medical Center’s chief nursing officer, said, “Don’t panic.”
“You’re hearing of venues being canceled. It’s not the end of the world; it’s just an abundance of caution being taken,” he said. “We don’t have enough knowledge at this point … and new information is coming out, so that caution is needed.
“Factual information should reign.” James named the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and Kentucky Department of Public Health as first resources.
“We’re by no means epidemiologists, but we can know what these sources tell us,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 11 reported coronavirus cases in Kentucky, all in the Louisville and Lexington areas, with the patients in stable condition.
Some people have been tested in Caldwell County, officials reported, with all testing negative.
Nonetheless, James warned the public that more positives may result nationwide as testing becomes more widespread and available.
“It’s the same with the flu; there are more cases of flu than we know about,” he added.
A primary concern of the meeting was how separate agencies would handle quarantines.
Government officials discussed checkups, supplies and aid for any future quarantined residents.
Several agencies announced their staffs were being screened with protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer being supplied.
Caldwell Medical begins restricting visitors Monday, James said.
Senior living facility Highland Homes in Princeton is currently not accepting new admissions.
Local law enforcement inquired about the intake process of an inmate suspected to have coronavirus. Procedures remain normal, though James clarified that protective equipment always needs to be administered right away — including a mask for the individual.
County Attorney Roy Massey IV said the Caldwell County Courthouse has suspended non-essential activities until April 10.
Princeton Electric Plant Manager Kevin Kizzee said the Caldwell Electric Board had a pandemic policy, though it needs updates.
“Some utilities have implemented a policy where they close the doors and just use a drive-through,” he said. “We’re looking at that closely right now and, in the meantime, giving workers PPE (personal protective equipment).”
The plant has a mutual aid agreement with adjoining counties. A similar implementation was discussed for other utilities.
Officials discussed initial reactions to the possibility of quarantines being announced.
“One thing is people start panicking when they’re asked to self-quarantine, and we don’t want people hoarding supplies,” James said. He added that mass testing couldn’t be a screening tool.
“Current capabilities are limited in the U.S., and those test kits are a crucial resource.”
Currently, a patient must exhibit symptoms — a fever of 100.4 or above, coughing and respiratory issues — and must have been in known contact with a patient or traveled to a country with a high infection rate.
“Testing capabilities are increasing (in the U.S.), but not enough to provide for everyone who’s worried,” James said. “Even though you get tested today and you’re negative, it doesn’t mean you won’t be negative tomorrow. Testing (like that) is wasting currently-limited resources.”
Tests conducted by the Kentucky Department of Public Health are free, though normal charges can be incurred if a resident is tested through a kit sent to a commercial facility. Test results take up to 48 hours.
Caldwell Medical Infection Prevention Officer Mandy Smiley outlined what is currently known about the virus. It’s thought to be spread through droplets and can remain airborne after a sneeze.
“They think it can live on surfaces for up to five days,” she said, adding that was not unusual for a virus, especially compared to spores that can live on a surface for up to six months.
“From an infection prevention standpoint, it’s just good old-fashioned hygiene. Do what you do when you have the flu: wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home.”
She added that high-touch areas such as phones and steering wheels should be disinfected.
Smiley said that amid the worry, many patients scared of the virus were still merely testing for flu and strep throat. Some uncertainty persists, however.
One question concerned how long a child should stay home after running a fever. Normal advice is for 24 hours, but there was no decided response if it happens now other than evaluating response on a case-by-case basis.
Another question regarding county morgue pickup was if the virus lived after the death of the host.
“We don’t know for sure,” James said.
“With so much unknown, I think about wastewater,” said James Noel, Princeton Water superintendent. “Losing my staff is a concern, but we’re just trying to provide them with protective equipment and preach the same hygiene everyone else is.”
Nonetheless, Health Care Coalition Coordinator B.J. Newbury gave the state of Kentucky a “kudos” for its rapid response in only a week since the state’s first reported case of the virus.
“Six months in the future, (if nothing bad happens,) then the worst case is we have updated plans and procedures,” she said.
Latest reports indicated there have been 133,000 cases and 4,900 deaths worldwide. The U.S. has had 1,289 cases and 37 deaths.