County Preparedness Actions for Novel Coronavirus

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Provided by Prince William County

This afternoon, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors received an overview from the Prince William County Health District and the Office of Emergency Management. They discussed how the county is preparing and responding to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-2019).

An Overview of Coronaviruses

Dr. Alison Ansher, the health director for the Prince William County Health District, gave an overview of Coronaviruses. Ansher said that there are four types of the virus that cause the common cold. Two types cause severe lung infection, which is SARS and MERS. The specific virus that is of current concern is SARS-CoV-2, which causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). It is spread through cough, sneezing or close personal contact.

According to the briefing, symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild to severe.  “[O]lder adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for more serious complications.” Symptoms of the disease may include fever, cough, shortness of breath. Complications of the disease may include pneumonia, respiratory failure and multisystem organ failure. The estimated incubation period is two to 14 days.

Preventing the Spread of the Disease

The presentation also showed what the public can do to help prevent the spread of the disease. People should wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing their nose. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and cover a cough, sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash. Clean frequently-touched objects with regular household cleaning spray or wipes. Finally, avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home if sick.

Incident Management Team

Ansher also told the board that an incident management team has been established to coordinate response and prepare in case the disease escalates in the county. The team has direct lines of communication and coordination between Prince William County, the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, and the Virginia Department of Health. The incident management team is also engaging with hospitals, clinical providers, schools and other community partners to raise awareness of any developments and provide the most current information to the public.

“Additionally, we’ve been in close coordination with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions as well as others in the National Capital Region. We would like to try and use the same messages so that people who work and play in other jurisdictions in the National Capital Region, but live in our community, are hearing the same information,” Ansher said.

Surveillance and investigation will continue to be conducted of any potentially suspected cases. All at-risk travelers are identified and supervised in self-monitoring upon their return to the community. As of March 4, 33 travelers have been monitored by the Health District, Ansher said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Ansher also said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors people who are coming back to the community from abroad and alerts those communities to the residents’ return. The CDC also tries to provide adequate contact information so jurisdictional officials can contact the returnees and give them appropriate advice and monitor them as needed.

Initially, only the CDC could do testing for COVID-19 through state-certified labs. Ansher said the Virginia lab has been able to get results “fairly quickly.” More testing facilities are starting to come online, Ansher said. “Commercial labs are beginning to test also, Labcorps and Quest, so that should add to the ability for providers to request testing in the appropriate patients.”

The County’s Emergency Management Efforts

The county’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Brian Misner, briefed the board on the county’s emergency management efforts. According to Misner, the county is following the organization’s Emergency Operations Plan, which involves an all-hazards, functional approach. The county is ready to implement its Continuity of Operations plan, if necessary. “Here in Prince William County… we have a local emergency operations plan. That plan is required by state code, and it’s a living document, which means we routinely test, train and exercise on the plan. So, it’s not something that sits on the shelf. It’s very much something that is part of our culture here in the county that we continually … revise.”

Some action items that the county has taken include placing COVID-19 informational signs and hand hygiene stations in those county buildings that have a high level of traffic. In addition, the Emergency Management Office is working with suppliers to get adequate hand cleaning and office cleaning supplies in the workplace. Misner noted that emergency responders have plenty of equipment on hand to respond to any suspected COVID-19 calls. “We also have enhanced the call screening procedures in our public safety communications center. So, if a caller is reporting the three main symptoms – cough, shortness of breath and fever – they will screen and handle that call differently and make our first responders aware of those symptoms, so that they can take care to protect themselves before encountering the patient…”

The county is also continuing to assess the needs of county employees that are out among the public doing essential functions in the community, according to Misner. “We are also looking out for and planning for their needs to make sure that, as new recommendations come in, we’re able to adequately meet those, as well.”

Information

Misner ended his presentation by stressing that the Virginia Department of Health is the lead agency for COVID-19 across the state. The county has implemented the Joint Information Center, which is responsible for the coordination and posting of official messages from the county. “… the Joint Information Center is meant to be our one message, many voices for public information.”

Residents can see the latest county updates and operational status regarding COVID-19 on the county’s website at pwcgov.org/emergency. Residents who have general questions can call the Virginia Department of Health at 1-877-ASK-VDH3 or visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

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