Commission coordinates COVID-19 Task Force briefing

by Peggy Mackenzie

Members of the Greater Greenbrier COVID-19 Task Force held a press briefing last Thursday at the Greenbrier County Visitors Center in Lewisburg to give updates on how the county is handling protection and safety issues caused by the virus, and what plans are in the making for the future.

Greenbrier County Commission President Lowell Rose, who coordinated the event, stated the County Commission is focused on preparedness and planning for the future, while coordinating “day to day” with a core group of COVID Task Force members.

He introduced the speakers for the meeting which included Dr. Bridgette Morrison and Director of Nursing Nikki Dolan, both at the Greenbrier County Health Department, 911 Director Mike Honaker, Airport Director Brian Belcher, and CVB Executive Director Kara Dense.

Planning for the pandemic in Greenbrier County began in mid February with daily meetings with the hospitals, clinics and other health facilities. “At first, no one wanted testings because to do so would bring infected persons into the facilities, but that changed,” Nikki Dolan said. “Of 306 people tested, 285 have proved negative, with four positive and 15 still pending,” Dolan said. But that changed as awareness of the dangers of not testing became clear. She affirmed that testing within the county has been adequate at private labs.

“COVID-19 can infect any two people differently,” said Morrison. A part of the health department’s emergency preparedness is to do bi-weekly calls with infected persons to determine their needs and infection levels. The department is also concerned about how to protect the front-line people. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been a supply issue, Morrison said. But when a blueprint was located for constructing N-95 masks, production began of over 500 masks in the county. Many others around the county have stepped up and are making mask coverings as well.

“We have a requisition in for rapid testing for our county to handle hot spots that may appear. Not everyone needs testing, due to limited resources. But we must remain being diligent by continuing to keep protective action in place,” Morrison said.

“Social distancing is working,” Morrison said. Maintain washing hands, and remaining at home, wear a mask and keep six-feet distancing when shopping will make a difference. “The big picture is that the pandemic was predicted to be far larger for our population density, but, thankfully, our numbers have remained low.” Morrison also said she expects the virus to be around for a long time, cycling around over and over. “West Virginia is blessed; we did well early in the epidemic and isolated people. We are checking with businesses and stores that are still open to be sure they are practicing good health procedures.”

“Sometimes it takes bad things to happen to find out who we really are,” said 911 Center Director Mike Honaker. “We find out who are our essential employees; the custodians, the cafeteria workers, and our police, fire and rescue workers.”  While the 911 Center hasn’t had an up-tick of emergency calls in this period, there have been increases in “rumor calls”. “If there’s one thing we need to be clear about, it’s that you cannot believe everything you read on Facebook,” he said. The Center gets calls from both ends of the spectrum, from angry calls complaining ‘what right do you have to shut us down,’ to hysteric calls demanding that we shut everything down. “Yes, this is serious, but that means stay home, wash your hands and maintain social distance when out.”

Homeland Security remains responsive to the community throughout this crisis,” Honaker said. “The flood of 2016 was four years ago and we are still recovering, helping those whose homes were lost, and we will continue doing that.”

Honaker offered a military quote in closing, “The best battle plan in the world changes the moment we meet the enemy. This pandemic will wind down and we will learn a lot from it.”

Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Brian Belcher stated the airport remains operational with scheduled commercial flights still operating. A portion of the terminal, however, has been closed- including Landings Restaurant.

CVB’s Director Dense said the goal of the CVB is to support local businesses from going under. “They are truly suffering.” She encouraged residents to call their favorite restaurants and shops for curb-side service by going to greenbrier.wv.com for access to many businesses. “Don’t go to Amazon, instead shop local.”

Rose said the GVEDC, whose representatives could not be at the meeting, are focused on pivoting to economic stability by working with the smaller shops, boutiques, etc. to help them maintain viability. Their website, gvedc.com, has become a locus for local small businesses to advertise their wares and products, to take orders, ship merchandise and even provide curb-side service. The website also answers questions for business owners and provides forms to apply to government-run programs.

It was the consensus of many at the meeting that people are still not taking this pandemic seriously. This is a problem that may rise when reopening for business is allowed. There will likely be waves of outbreaks, it was noted. “We must continue to be smart and not let our guard down.”

“Our prayers are with those whose family members have been lost,” said Rose at the close of the meeting.

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