Breckenridge Texan

Local officials ramp up efforts to prevent spread of coronavirus

Local officials ramp up efforts to prevent spread of coronavirus
March 15
19:28 2020

As the coronavirus disease continues to spread across the country, the situation is constantly changing and local officials are ramping up efforts to prevent the virus’s spread in Stephens County.

To help our readers keep up with all of the information about coronavirus, the Breckenridge Texan has created a special page on this website. Local articles, as well as information from state and national officials will be posted there. Click here to visit the Coronavirus News page.

County officials work to prepare for potential coronavirus situation

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach, who is the county’s emergency coordinator, said he has been participating in numerous calls every day with the Texas Department of State Health Services and Gov. Greg Abbott’s office about the novel (new) coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19).

“As far as we know, right now, there have been no reported cases in Stephens County, so we continue to monitor that,” Roach said on Friday. He confirmed that information again on Sunday, March 15.

Roach also said he had a conference call with local emergency officials on Friday to ensure the lines of communications stay open. He said County officials are continuing to push out the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the TDSHS about what people can do to protect themselves.

“It’s the same advice they give during the flu season, like washing your hands thoroughly, self quarantine even if you have something like the flu,” he said. “Those are the recommendations we posted on the County Facebook page and what we recommend for the public.”

Roach said what’s unique about each of the entities involved, like the schools or hospital, is they have their own associations and their chains of commands about how to handle an outbreak in their particular circumstance.

He said any local test for COVID-19 would have to be sent to the CDC. If it comes back positive, it will be reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“I would get a phone call or an email from the Texas Department of State Health Services saying, ‘Hey there’s a reported case,’” Roach said. “So, I would be aware very soon after the case has been confirmed.”

Roach said if there is a confirmed case locally, he most likely will declare a state of emergency in Stephens County. He said by doing that, since President Trump has declared a national emergency and the governor declared a disaster, it allows the county government and the different entities, like the hospitals and schools, to receive federal funding for the expenses to combat the virus through whatever steps they are taking.

“This will allow us to use those federal funds that are going to be available,“ he said.

Then local entities can be reimbursed for things like doing deep cleaning or purchasing any protective equipment they have to buy above and beyond what they normally do, Roach said.

“We would keep track of those,” he said. “The governor said on his call yesterday, ‘Be sure that you track local expenses for this, that way everybody can be reimbursed properly.’”

Roach said declaring an emergency in the County would also bring awareness to the situation.

On Friday afternoon, Roach said he spoke with Dr. Prater, the county’s Public Health Authority, and went over what the plans are in Stephens County if there is a confirmed case here.

Dr. Prater told Roach that anyone who thinks they have the illness should not just show up at the hospital or clinic. He said they need to call their health provider and let them screen them over the phone first, then determine what the next step is, whether they prescribe the patient something over the phone or have them come to the clinic. If you do not have a regular health care provider, call any local health care facility (Breckenridge Medical Center, ResourceCare or Stephens Memorial Hospital). Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan’s previous article with recommendations from Stephens Memorial Hospital.

“Now, obviously, if somebody is in respiratory distress or there’s an emergency situation, they need to take the appropriate action,” Roach said. “But, we’re talking about the main part, for folks who are experiencing symptoms. They just don’t want to show up at a hospital or clinic. They need to call first. He said that was the big thing right now, making sure people are doing that so they can assess them over the phone.”

Roach said one of the biggest things the state recommended during their phone call on Friday was that if somebody has been on a cruise recently they need to self-quarantine before they go to work or get out in the public. He said the second thing is, if somebody has been in an area where there’s been an outbreak, like the state of Washington or traveled from overseas, they need to self-quarantine for 14 day.

Another thing that came up during Friday’s phone call is that it isn’t necessary for people to stock up with items from the store, like they do during a hurricane or weather crisis.

90th District Court schedule curtailed

Also, Roach said that 90th District Judge Stephen Bristow said they are not going to have any jury trials or large dockets for the next three weeks at the Stephens County Courthouse. Roach said it’s going to be very limited so they don’t have a lot people congregating the hallway and there will be no jury trials until at least April 15. He said Bristow is expected issue a formal statement on Tuesday.

Roach said it’s his understanding there will only be family law cases and short hearings that do not require several witnesses.

Additionally, Roach said county employees will be disinfecting all public areas of the courthouse.

City of Breckenridge Preparedness Preparations

As part of the City of Breckenridge’s continue preparedness for the Corona virus pandemic, City Manager Andy McCuistion said he has two employees scheduled to attend a regional symposium on the continuity of operations on Tuesday in Abilene.

McCuistion said the meeting will focus on how municipal organizations, like the City of Breckenridge, can continue to provide services for the community while protecting their workers.

Breckenridge City Secretary Heather Robertson-Caraway and Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney are scheduled to attend the meeting.

McCuistion said Robertson-Caraway is over the water department, which has a staff that interacts with the public and Chaney will bring back information to the other departments, like the Fire Department and Police Department that also interact with the public.

After they return from the meeting, McCuistion said, he’s going to meet with his staff to discuss how to best protect city workers while continuing to provide city services.

“We’ll take whatever they bring from the meeting and we’ll talk about how we will handle each department,” he said. “The water office deals with the public probably as much as anybody. We’ll have to try and figure out how to keep those folks protected besides what were already doing. We’ll need to talk about how we can continue to provide services and still keep everybody safe.”

McCuistion said the city’s public works employees are able to mostly isolate themselves from the public when they work. “Nobody comes around their jobs sites,” he said. “They don’t deal with a lot of the public in what they do.”

McCuistion also said there are ways the public can pay their utility bills without having to come into the city office and interact with the staff or other people. He said they can pay online with a credit card, drop their payment in the drop box or mail their payment. Additionally, citizens can also call the water office to speak to the staff about an issue with their utility bill.

Affects on BISD, TSTC and Stephens Memorial Hospital

On Friday, Breckenridge Independent School District Interim Superintendent Earl Jarrett announced that all classes will be canceled on Monday for students and staff, with the exception of campus administration personnel, directors and central office staff, while they assess the coronavirus situation. Classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, March 16. Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan article on the BISD cancellation.

Texas State Technical College extended Spring Break until March 29. Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan article on the TSTC response to the coronavirus situation.

Administrators at Stephens Memorial Hospital released a statement on Friday with their response to the coronavirus situation, including some temporary changes they are making for the safety of the community. Click here to read the complete story.

Villa Haven discourages visitors and implements new visitation procedures

The local rehabilitation and nursing facility Villa Haven has also implemented new visitor procedures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus into their facilities.

Business Officer Manger DeAnne Gray said that right now unless it’s just absolutely necessary, they are discouraging people from coming to visit their family members. Additionally, she said  the front door is now locked to control access and visitors and staff must ring a doorbell to be let into the facility by a staff member.

She said if someone does come to visit, they will be required to wash their hands and be screened by filling out a questionnaire about where they’ve traveled during the last 14 days. She said they will also be required to wear protective clothing, which includes a gown, mask and gloves before they will be allowed to go up and down the hallway.

“Visitors can still come; we’re just discouraging it if they don’t have to,” she said. “We can meet them at the door. The doors are locked, so they have to ring a doorbell to come in. Even workers do.”

Stephens County jail cancels inmate visitation and implements additional screening procedures

The Stephens County Jails is implementing several changes in their operations including suspending all inmate visitations, with the exception of criminal defense attorney visits, as a preventative measure against the coronavirus disease.

Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan article about the visitation restrictions.

Additionally on Friday, Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt met with Chief Deputy Kevin Roach and the jail’s nurse, who is under contract from Southern Health Partners, to discuss the best ways to keep the jail safe from the coronavirus threat.

“As you can imagine the most difficult thing about it is some people have symptoms, some people don’t. And of course the symptoms often are symptoms that look like other ailments, like the flu or a cold,” Holt said.

The Sheriff’s Office staff is screening people being taken into the jail by asking a few extra questions or making a few extra observations on whether somebody is sick or showing symptoms. Holt said one the biggest complications is that not everybody shows the symptoms.

“You may have it for a week or two before you ever know it or show any symptoms,” he said.  “Obviously if we know or strongly suspect that somebody has been exposed to it or has it, then we’re not going to be allowing them in.”

As to what would happen to somebody who does have the virus or is suspected of having the virus, Holt said it would depend on what type of offense the person was arrested for.

For example, he said, one option would be if somebody is arrested for a minor crime like a suspended drivers license or not paying traffic tickets, there is already a process where they can be arrested and released on a personal recognizance bond and not have to stay in the jail. However, he said, if they were being booked on a violent crime, like murder or sexual assault, they would have to look at that situation differently.

Holt said that if anyone in the jail appears to have the coronavirus disease, the jail has access to a nurse and a doctor. He also said they can take inmates to Stephens Memorial Hospital, if they need to.

Additionally, there is a room in the jail where they can isolate one or more people if they are suspected of having the virus or have been exposed to the virus. Holt said they don’t have a separate air filtration system built into the jail but they do have holding rooms, an empty pod or two and separation cells.

Another issue corrections facilities like the jail are having to contend with is the use of hand sanitizer by the inmates. Hand sanitizer has alcohol in it and is considered contraband; inmates are not allowed to have it. However, Holt said, inmates do have sinks and soap in their pods. He also there is hand sanitizer available for the jail staff and for the trustees.

“However, there’s nothing that keeps us from dispensing it if need be,” he said. “Now, they have sinks and soap in their pods, and I think most experts agree soap and water are better than hand sanitizer. So they’ve got the best tool already in their pods.”

Another option for keeping the inmates safe is keeping arrestees in the holding cells as long as legally possible. Holt said that way if they have a chance to bond out, then they never make contact with the inmates in the pods.

However, he said, if they are not able to make bond and have to be put in with the general population, they will be observed washing their hands and using hand sanitizer before they go in.

Additional information

For the latest information from national and state officials, visit the following websites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Texas Department of State Health Services

 

Story by Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

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