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Daily Sun photo/Michael Kormos

While no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Navarro County as of press time, local agencies are taking precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, which the World Health Organization characterized Wednesday as a global pandemic.

Representatives from Corsicana and Navarro County first responders, elected officials, school districts, courts and health organizations met Friday morning at the Navarro County Office of Emergency Management to discuss the crisis and open the lines of communication to provide a unified response and prevent the spread of misinformation.

While Friday was the first meeting of the group, NCOEM Coordinator Eric Meyers said he and Corsicana Fire Chief Paul Henley have been working with local health organizations since January.

“Our goal is to put out the facts, prevent hysteria and limit exposure,” Henley said.

Meyers said misinformation has led to a run on goods at local stores, which is unwarranted at this time.

The Corsicana Fire Department has been training its staff to ensure they understand the proper procedures for assessing, treating and transporting patients for possible COVID-19. Dispatchers receiving calls for fever or respiratory illness will question callers about their symptoms and risk factors such as fever, history of travel, and contact with infected patients.

Precautions will be taken by the department to limit exposure to patients such as wearing protective gear, sending only one paramedic at a time to the scene and asking the patient to walk to the ambulance if able.

“If you think you may be infected, please communicate with your healthcare provider,” Henley said. “Call ahead so they can take precautions to limit contact with other vulnerable people.”

Henley said his department deals with health emergencies every day and many of these plans were already in place, but have been adapted to address the current threat.

“We have been working on this for months behind the scenes,” he said.

Meyers said his office's goal is to provide accurate information to residents and employers of all demographics. He said a Spanish language translation of information is planned as well.

Meyers said he is working with and monitoring state and federal agencies. Locally, the office coordinates with Public Health Director Dr. Kent Rogers and the Corsicana-Navarro County Public Health District.

Employers, especially those in large industries, may face challenges such as providing personal protection equipment, of which there is a shortage.

Henley encouraged employers to allow staff to work from home if possible.

As of Friday afternoon, Corsicana ISD and Navarro College extended spring break a week on all their campuses. Navarro County Judge H.M. Davenport said the Palace Theatre will be closed through April 15. Talks were underway with the Navarro County Youth Expo, which is set for March 23 through 28 but no changes where made at press time.

“The main thing we're doing is meeting with other local health partners in the community,” said Emily Carroll, Director of Nursing for Corsicana-Navarro County Public Health District. “We're sending out guidance for testing as far as clinical features, and if they have any travel in the last 14 days. Local health departments are participating in weekly, if not daily conference calls, with regional and state health departments."

“We've been working on a plan with other agencies here in town, as well as interim guidance for businesses and employers, school districts and faith-based organizations,” Carroll said. “We're mainly just putting the word out as we receive phone calls to let people know they can reference the cdc.gov coronavirus website, as well as the Texas Department of State Health Services website where they are daily updating the Texas case counts for coronavirus because that seems to be something that people are very interested in.”

Carroll said infection can be avoided by practicing good hygiene, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throwing it away.

“Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces frequently and the good old basic washing the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available,” she said.

Carroll said it's a crucial time for employers to be a little more flexible with a person's sick time or time off.

After Friday's stakeholder meeting, Dr. Kent Rogers, Public Health Director of Navarro County, shared several updates.

“As of right this minute, there are no identified cases in Navarro County,” he said. “But let me modify that by saying the testing capacity is just now getting ramped up, so there's not been one identified.”

Rogers said he is still having to go through the CDC for a three to five day turnaround.

“I understand this morning that Roche Lab is releasing one soon that will be a four-hour turnaround,” he said. “At least something more rapid, and that's what we really need.”

Rogers said it's a complicated test because you have to have multiple sites positive to ensue its accurate, and not a false positive. More than one site of the virus has to show up, corona, too.”

Rogers advised social distancing and restricting travel to the essentials.

“My general advice, but we can't say it often enough: Wash your hands. If you wash them off frequently, you're really reducing your risk,” he said.

Rogers also stressed the importance of people not touching their face, using hand sanitizers, and wiping down counters with Lysol or isopropyl alcohol, as the bacteria can remain on surfaces for several days.

Buying excess quantities of toilet paper, however, does absolutely nothing to prevent or combat the virus.

“This is going to be the mystery of 2020,” Rogers said. “I still can't figure out any reason to go out and get it like this. It's laughable.”

Rogers said in regards to keeping supplies available for staff to see and treat patients.

“Our biggest thing as a nation is we've got to get our health care workers protected, which means we've got to get the masks and the gowns, and all these things that we use every day to protect ourselves. We've got to get that available.”

With the public ordering excess amount of medical supplies, it's making it difficult for medical practitioners to order and receive supplies.

“It's 10 times more lethal than influenza,” Rogers said in regards to the estimated seriousness of the coronavirus. “Influenza may get 18 to 20,000 in a rough year. Now you're talking about 200,000 deaths. This is a massive event that people want me to tell them that it's not serious, but that is not proper thinking. This virus has never been seen before. We do not have innate immunity. It clearly prefers old people, and we need to be thinking about that as we go about our business. It's going to get some people."

Navarro County nursing homes and senior living centers have restricted visitors and taken special precautions to protect residents, who are at high risk of infection.

“We have implemented a policy where we have employees who sit up front and stop anybody, I don't care if it's the mailman, staff... every time someone comes through that door, they have to answer a questionnaire and use hand sanitizer,” said Christina Schultz, Charge Nurse of Legacy West Healthcare and Rehabilitation. “If they answer 'yes' to any of the questions on the questionnaire, they're not allowed to come in, and we allow no visitors after 7 p.m.”

Schultz also said all current senior social outings have been canceled.

“There are no confirmed cases here,” said Jordan Golden, Administrator of the Twilight Nursing and Rehab Center. “We're taking all precautions as issued by the Center for Disease Control. To protect our residents, what we are doing is a strictly limited visitation. Whenever someone enters, they will have to be allowed in. At that time there will be a questionnaire, we take a temperature of all staff and visitors when they come in. Anyone coming into the facility has to be allowed in, because we definitely don't want to keep families from the residents, but right now we are strictly limiting who comes in through the door.”

Golden said he hopes this action will be temporary, adding that since Monday, the center has had to continually change in accordance to CDC guidelines, and are closely monitoring the one entrance to the facility.

A representative from Epic Nursing and Rehabilitation said they are doing everything they can according to CDC guidelines.

Corsicana Municipal Judge Cody Beauchamp said, as a precaution, he is making all court appearances optional.

“If you feel sick, we will take you at your word and continue your case at a later date,” he said.

Navarro County District Attorney Will Dixon said if you are sick, don’t come to court unless directed by your attorney and the Judge.

“If you have a court hearing, please call before coming,” he said. “Things are changing rapidly. Be safe.”

COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that's a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

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