Breckenridge Texan

As efforts to combat virus continue, local clinics await test results

As efforts to combat virus continue, local clinics await test results
March 22
19:31 2020

As the number of COVID-19 in the United States surpassed 15,000, according to the World Health Organization’s report at about noon today (local time), the sixth most cases in the world, Stephens County and the City of Breckenridge are increasing efforts to prevent the spread of the disease caused by the novel (new) coronavirus. Members of the Stephens County emergency management team had a telephone conference call Sunday afternoon to update everyone on the coronavirus situation.

Testing for the virus

There have been several local residents tested for COVID-19, but no positive results have been reported.

Dr. Cynthia Perry, the Chief Medical Officer for ResourceCare Community Health Center, said that because of the backlog, the four tests ResourceCare has sent to the lab are still pending and the results will likely take another week.

“We are triaging in the parking lot and asking people to please call ahead if they’ve got a fever,” she said. “We have an alternate entrance for the immunocompromised, and we also have a dedicated room for isolation, if anyone comes in with a cough and a fever.”

There have been five people tested for the disease through Stephens Memorial Hospital and Breckenridge Medical Center. Dr. Kelli Windsor said that at the clinic, patients are screened over the phone for COVID-19 symptoms, and there are screening questionnaires at the front desk.

“We are canceling most of the ‘healthy visits,’ unless it’s something that just has to be seen in person,” she said. “Most of those, we’re doing over the phone, at this point, just encouraging people to stay at home.”

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach explained that since testing in Texas is still very limited, everyone should assume that there are people with COVID-19 in Stephens County. “There are confirmed cases all around us, Wichita Falls, Brownwood, west of us, east of us. It’s rapidly spreading across Texas,” he said.

Stephens County

Roach said that after the County Commissioners meeting on Monday morning, March 23, the Stephens County Courthouse will be closed to visitors. A couple of offices may be opened by appointment only.

“We don’t want to totally cut off somebody from getting a birth certificate or something like that, that they would need in an emergency for, maybe, a health care situation,” Roach said. “We’ll have a dropbox out by the curb that will allow people to put some information there, maybe payments; we can process those a couple of times a week and put receipts in the mail. But, we don’t plan on having person-to-person contact and putting not only the public at risk but also our employees.”

After Monday’s Commissioners Court meeting, future meetings will be held in accordance with the modified open meetings law and will be held via phone line.

 Public gatherings

Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, Roach said, some venues in the area continued to host large groups of people over the weekend for things like birthday parties and family reunions, including one with more than 100 people attending.

“There’s no enforcing mechanism in (the governor’s orders), so we can’t go arrest people,” Roach said. “As a matter of fact, on a couple of the orders today, Gov. Abbott said that he was going to have a penalty attached to that. But, we’re trying to reach out to the public and say, ‘Hey, let’s not do that.'”

Roach said County officials will call the venues on Monday and ask them to cancel upcoming events, unless they are expected to have no more than 10 attendees.

“They’re trying to survive in these tough times, too, and we realize that, but that’s just creating a problem for everybody,” he said.

Additionally, Roach said they will be talking to the management of local stores, such as United Supermarket and Walmart, to see if there is anything they can do to reduce crowds at the stores.

“That’s one of the issues we’ve see. We’re all trying to self-quarantine and stay away from each other, but then we rub elbow-to-elbow, packed in these stores,” he said. “I think folks are starting to realize the importance of social distancing … so we’re trying address that, on the shopping side.”

Assistance

Roach said they will be opening a phone bank sometime on Monday that will be operated by the staff at First Baptist Church in Breckenridge to offer information about services related to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

“Seniors, mainly, are who we’re trying to target, but anybody who needs information about services, they’ll have a guide there to point them in the right direction,” he said.

One of the services will be to help senior citizens who need help getting groceries and other items because they can’t or don’t want to get out and shop. Volunteers will be trained in how to help deliver groceries to them.

City of Breckenridge

Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims was in on the call and said the City offices will continue to have limited access through the east side doors. Visitors will be restricted to the front office, but at this time, the office will be open for people to come in and pay bills, etc.

Protecting law enforcement officers

Karen Robinson, the dispatch supervisor with the Stephens County/Breckenridge’s dispatch center, said that anyone who calls 9-1-1 seeking assistance will be asked some specific questions so that local officers will know if they need to be prepared for a potential coronavirus situation.

“We still need to know who they are, where they are and what’s going on, but we’re also asking, on every call … we’re asking if they’ve been exposed to coronavirus, that they know of, if they’ve traveled out of the country, if they’re having flu-like symptoms, if they’re having difficulty breathing, anything like that,” she said. “If they say yes, or if I can hear that they’re having difficulty breathing over the phone, I’m going to tell my officers, my EMS crews, or whatever, that they need to use universal precautions. That way, they’ll have some idea when they get there.”

Robinson said it’s kind of strange for the dispatchers because it seems a little like prying to ask so many personal questions. “But, we feel like it’s necessary,” she said.

Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell expressed empathy with the public but said getting as much information as possible from callers is necessary.

“We understand that everyone has emergency needs, but we have to get that information to keep everybody safe,” he said. “If everyone can pass that on to people to let them know that there’s going to be those extra questions…if you’re running fever, if you’re coughing, sneezing, those sort of things.”

Additionally, the coronavirus threat is altering the way the law enforcement officers are doing things. “We’re really trying to limit our contact with different things, but we’re still out there enforcing the law and things like that,” Cantrell said. “We’re just not out there as hard as we normally would be, making traffic stops and those sort of things.”

School district

The Breckenridge Independent School District is shut down through April 3, at this time, expecting to return on April 6, if the situation allows. Administrators and staff members worked last week preparing instructional materials for the students to use during their time at home, but starting next week, the most of the staff will work from home and will only be at the office or schools on an as-needed basis, Interim Superintendent Earl Jarrett said.

The schools will continue offering free breakfast and lunch to all children. “Every child, 18 years old and younger, can get a free lunch and breakfast through this program through the USDA and Texas Department of Agriculture,” he said. “Now, the delivery is going to be – when they come in for lunch, they will get breakfast for the next day. And, we are even being allowed to give them three meals on Friday. So, on Friday, they will get enough food for Saturday and Sunday and Monday morning’s breakfast.”

Jarrett said the school district will update its website on Monday, making it easy for parents and students to find the information they need.

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Local health clinics and the hospital have implemented new protocols for patients, to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Several people in the county have been tested for the disease caused by the virus, but the results have not come back yet. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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