County officials prepare for COVID-19 possibility

District 1 Magistrate Elbert Bennett (left) and Judge-Executive Larry Curling vote on an agenda item Tuesday in the Circuit Court room. The meeting site was chosen so magistrates could spread out. The meeting was closed to the public but streamed online.

The agenda for the Caldwell County Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday was reduced, but county leaders took the time to provide residents with information related to fighting COVID-19.

The meeting took place in the Circuit Court room over concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus. It was closed to the public but streamed online.

Magistrates were able to spread out, taking part in the suggested “social distancing.”

Judge-Executive Larry Curling opened the meeting with local information about the virus, starting with what would happen if Caldwell County were to have someone test positive.

“The governor’s office would announce that we have a case,” Curling said. “They would say if it was a male or female, and they would give their age. That individual would be hospitalized or be in self-isolation until they get a test that shows negative.

“(The Caldwell County Department of) Public Health would conduct an investigation to find out who this person had contact with. They would then contact these people, and they would be put in isolation, if need be, and they would be tested if they have symptoms.”

Curling said county officials are in “preventive mode,” and seeking ways to slow the spread of the disease

“The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings, conference calls, webinars and talking to health officials,” he said. “One thing I can tell you is that everyone is working together.

“Decisions are being made that will upset some people, and I totally understand, but I promise you that these decisions are being made for the best interests of everyone.”

Curling explained that when he declared a state of emergency for Caldwell County last week, it was done so the county would be eligible for emergency funding from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office reported that all 120 Kentucky counties have declared states of emergency.

After the meeting, Curling said he believed that Caldwell County would get at least one case of COVID-19, and that he and Princeton Mayor Kota Young have been in discussions about how to handle the situation.

“For most of us in Caldwell County, COVID-19 will be minimal,” Curling said during the meeting. “If you are young and healthy and you get this virus, more than likely, you will bounce back with barely any time off.

“The one thing that has caught my attention in the last few weeks is that this virus is more infectious than the flu and has a higher mortality rate. What really got my attention is the mortality rate is higher among older people, especially those over 80.”

The fiscal court heard several officials make reports as to their COVID-19 preparation. They were:

• Joey McCaslin, Caldwell County emergency management director. He said that people should not worry about things that they can’t control and “have a little faith.”

“Quit hoarding,” he said to the agreement of fiscal court members. “If people would quit hoarding, we would not have a problem with getting groceries and toilet paper.

“Also, spread out. … I’m one that always shake hands with everybody, but we’ve got to quit that; we’ve got to change our mentality right now.”

McCaslin asked people to follow the guidelines. He said he went out Sunday morning and visited every church in Princeton that he could think of, and could not find one that looked like it was hosting services.

McCaslin also spoke about COVID-19 testing.

“Yes, there have been some cases of people testing in the county,” he said, “but there are no positive cases that they’ve found in Caldwell County so far.

“Some of the medical clinics — they are performing tests. This is all handled through our health department; they’re on top of it.”

McCaslin said that drive-through testing is coming to Caldwell County at some point and advised residents to get ready.

“(COVID-19) is probably already in this community,” he said. “The people are probably asymptomatic; they don’t know that they’ve got it. But, when we start testing — when we start doing a lot of testing — we will probably find something in this county.

“Don’t panic. It’s not a death sentence. We’ve been working since last week at a local level. There’s a committee put together; we’ve got the plans almost finalized for doing drive-through testing in the county.”

McCaslin added that the plans are not yet completed, but when the state gives approval, it will be provided.

• Mark Harrison, Caldwell County ambulance director, said his agency has enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, to treat 40 patients.

“Our goal is (to have enough equipment to treat) 1% of Caldwell County’s population,” he said. The official 2010 census population for Caldwell County was 12,989, so Harrison said he hoped to have enough PPE to treat 130 people.

“So, our short-term objective is to have enough PPE to treat, at any given time, 130 people.”

Curling said that he was confident that the county’s residents would see each other through the health issue.

“One thing I know about Caldwell: They take care of each other; they look after each other,” he said. “Also, if there are some older people and they need help, call the judge’s office (270-365-6660). We’ve got some people that will volunteer to go pick those groceries up for you, or prescriptions.”

Curling also praised residents and businesses for cooperating and staying compliant with requests and orders coming from the governor’s office.