— By Carol Vaughn
Health care and government officials responded to many questions this week, as the reality of the novel coronavirus pandemic started to sink in on the Eastern Shore.
The first confirmed case of the virus on the Eastern Shore was announced Thursday. It is thought the case was travel-related, according to a press release from the Eastern Shore Health District. The health department is investigating any potential exposures.
“We are not surprised to see our first positive COVID-19 case in the district. This reinforces the significant importance of social distancing,” said Eastern Shore Health District Director Dr. Richard Williams.
Virginia and federal officials have declared a state of emergency in response to the pandemic.
“Every single one of us has a personal responsibility in this situation. Every one of us has a role in being part of the solution,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in an update on Tuesday.
Additionally, organizations, agencies, churches, and private businesses, including restaurants, throughout the Shore, responded to state and federal guidelines that gatherings of 10 or more people must be avoided to help stem the disease’s spread.
As of Thursday, Virginia had 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 19 people hospitalized.
The Virginia Department of Health will post updates on the pandemic on its website — http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation/novel-coronavirus/ — each day at noon.
The first case on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in Talbot County, was announced Sunday by county officials.
Two Virginians, both men in their 70s, have died as result of the virus — both deaths were in the Peninsula Health District.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday told Virginians to avoid non-essential gatherings of more than 10 people, as given in federal guidelines.
That does not include normal operations at essential services such as manufacturers, distribution centers, airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, grocery stores, or pharmacies, according to a press release.
Additionally, Northam ordered all restaurants, fitness centers and theaters to reduce their capacity to 10 customers or close to that number, and encouraged restaurants to continue carryout or drive-through options.
The measure falls short of the outright closure ordered by Maryland’s governor on Monday.
Northam also ordered Virginia’s 75 DMV offices and mobile DMV units to close to the public, and said 60-day extensions will be granted for anyone who cannot renew online, or whose license or registration expires before May 15.
All district and circuit courts in the state also suspended non-essential, non-emergency proceedings through April 6, after Northam requested and the Supreme Court of Virginia granted a judicial emergency.
The emergency includes a prohibition on new eviction cases for tenants unable to pay their rent due to the outbreak.
Most cases will be postponed, and all deadlines will be extended for 21 days, according to a press release from Accomack and Northampton General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.
Essential functions include issuing protective orders, hearings to review and extend protective orders, and bond review hearings for people who have been arrested and are held in jail without bond.
In the J&DR Court, a judge will continue to hear emergency child custody or protective orders. All district courts will continue to appoint lawyers promptly for people who have been arrested.
All other criminal, civil, and traffic cases in the General District Court will be moved to new dates after the emergency order ends.
In the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, child custody cases, criminal and traffic cases involving juveniles, and most adult criminal trials and preliminary hearings will be moved to new dates. The ceremony to issue new driver’s licenses will also be rescheduled.
The State Corporation Commission also ordered utilities — including electric, natural gas and water companies — to suspend service disconnection for 60 days to help those financially impacted by the outbreak.
Northam in a press conference Tuesday said people over 65 or with chronic health conditions should self-quarantine.
“Please protect yourself,” he said. He urged people to check on older neighbors and family members.
“Help people out with grocery deliveries; make sure they are okay,” he said.
The governor will give daily updates during the emergency.
After declaring a state of emergency on March 11, Northam on March 12 ordered all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for at least two weeks.
Northam also announced actions Tuesday to support workers affected by the outbreak — including waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits and expanded eligibility to receive unemployment benefits if an employer needs to slow or temporarily stop operations because of the virus.
Workers who do not have paid sick leave and who are told by officials to self-quarantine, or who need to stay home to care for an ill family member, also may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
“We will get through this, but everyone must use good sense and good judgment,” Northam said.
Good sources for accurate information about the pandemic include the Virginia Department of Health website, given above, and the Centers for Disease Control website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Riverside Health System has information at https://www.riversideonline.com/
Additionally, Riverside Nurse is a 24-hour, toll-free line a person can call for help finding a doctor, making appointments, or for general information. The phone number is 1-800-675-6368.
Riverside Health System officials spoke about the pandemic in a conference call Tuesday.
Dr. David Jones spoke about current federal guidelines for who should be tested, saying there are several questions to be asked of someone who thinks he or she may have the virus.
Those include whether the person has traveled to an affected country or been exposed within 14 days to someone who has tested positive.
“Beyond that, patients that have those symptoms, and they have other medical problems, we recommend that they consult with their physician,” he said.
“If someone has those symptoms, what they should do is to not panic, and they should stay at home — that’s the first thing,” Jones said, adding the person should call their doctor’s office before going there.
“This is very similar to what we do normally with flu season…so you don’t expose others,” he said.
His advice to stem the spread of the virus is “Handwash, handwash, handwash, and also, don’t touch your eyes, your nose, your mouth.”
Jon Peterson, Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital administrator, spoke about how the hospital is preparing for the pandemic.
“Like all the other hospitals…around the country, we are really ensuring that we have our people trained to recognize these symptoms, to understand the guidelines, to apply those guidelines.
“First and foremost is to keep the patients safe, so we are doing things here in the hospital like restricting visitation…We’re doing things like canceling meetings of 10 or more…going to teleconferencing…and then really reinforcing what we call personal protective equipment — when to use it and how to use it.
“The main goal, really, is to try to contain and reduce the spread.”
All Riverside doctors’ offices remained open as of Tuesday, and people can keep medical appointments if they are comfortable doing so, Peterson said.
Patients are asked not to bring others with them to appointments unless they need assistance.
Peterson also addressed the idea of social distancing, saying if you are going to be around people, keep at least six feet apart. “But I think you can expand that social distancing to include less groups, less going out…If you don’t need to be out, stay home,” he said.
Jon Richardson, chief operating officer and environmental health manager with the Eastern Shore Health District, answered questions about the outbreak Tuesday via email.
Is testing being done in these two counties? Where are tests available and when should a person ask for one?
Richardson: Yes, testing is being conducted in both counties. Testing should be available at most primary care provider’s offices here on the Shore. The health department does not provide primary care and cannot clinically evaluate patients or collect specimens. Riverside Shore Memorial and Eastern Shore Rural Health have submitted the majority of the tests on the Eastern Shore.
Folks who are exhibiting symptoms should call their primary care provider. Anyone symptomatic should not show up to their doctor’s office without first calling, as they would run the risk of exposing others to whatever germ they may have.
How many people in Accomack and Northampton have been tested?
The health department has received test results for five individuals on the Shore. Since the testing is being done privately, there is a lag of about four days until the department receives results. The health department receives results from all testing on the Shore, but is not always aware when the test has been conducted.
Are there any confirmed cases in these two counties?
One case on the Eastern Shore of Virginia was confirmed on Thursday.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19 symptoms?
Contact your primary care provider. They will ask you questions to determine if you should be tested for COVID-19.
I have a medical appointment scheduled for something other than coronavirus. Should I keep it?
Contact your medical care provider. Some providers have already begun to postpone non-emergency appointments.
What exactly is “social distancing?”
Social distancing is maintaining space between yourself and others as much as possible.
Six feet is recommended. Other recommended precautionary measures are to avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
What are the symptoms?
Fever, cough, shortness of breath
How does COVID-19 spread?
Human coronaviruses spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, close personal contact or touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.