A webinar Wednesday afternoon pulled together community leaders at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus in the region.
The Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which included government and health leaders from both the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County.
Alan Larson, Sovah Health president and Sovah Health-Danville CEO, assured the community “health care works best in a crisis.”
“Sovah Health has been preparing for the outbreak in conjunction with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the Virginia Department of Health,” Larson said. “We are ready and doing everything we can to meet the needs of patients as they are identified and are able to minimize the risk of exposure to this disease to the employees and the community.”
He cited three protocols Sovah Health has initiated at the hospitals in both Danville and Martinsville.
“It’s not very popular, but we have gone to a zero-visitor protocol with three exceptions: families experiencing the end of life or beginning of life and pediatric patients,” he said. “Those cases are defined by the physician and the case.
“Also all entrances to the hospitals are closed but two — the emergency department and the main entrance. Visitors will be met by employees asking about the appropriateness of the visit, even if they have been approved. We are doing this to keep the community safe and to reduce the risk of the spread of the disease.”
The hospital also has “rescheduled all elective surgical and radiological procedures, which helps reserve the protective equipment needed,” he said.
He assured the community the hospital is doing urgent procedures and the emergency department still is open and risks of the spread of the disease have been minimized.
“It is safe to come to the hospital,” he said. “We have well-trained staff to access and identify the risks of patients who need to come. The same protocols and processes are in place in our clinics throughout the community.”
The health department
Dr. Scott Spillmann, district health director for the Virginia Department of Health, reported on what the department is doing locally to react to the pandemic.
“The health department’s role is education, support and giving advice with regulations. Our local application comes from the Richmond office, the central office for VDH. And they coordinate with the CDC and the World Health Organization. All that flows down.”
He said the health department nursing staff still is on task to see people but are trying to defer any non-critical visits and to handle expectant and new mothers and babies electronically or over the phone.
The health department still is offering immunizations, and the environmental health staff is working closely with restaurants, helping them interpret the executive orders from the state government.
“Overall, people are doing an excellent job,” he said. “We would encourage people to still support the restaurants and get that wonderful food.”
The department still is doing the on-site septic systems and wells services.
“The epidemiologists are assessing particularly positive cases and handling contacts. One case had well over 250 cases of contact and those take a little time to run down,” he said. “And we are really at the beginning of this. The epidemiologists are burning the midnight oil and are available around the clock.”
He said the department continues to emphasize hygiene and social distancing. “Stay home if you are sick, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve and definitely wash your hands, at least every hour or so,” he said. “Clean off your surfaces, such as your mouse and phone. Avoid touching your face. If you are getting sick, call your doctor, who knows you better.”
He encouraged everyone to take the risk seriously.
“You might reap what you sow. There are people who could have it and not be ill,” he said. “Think of the people around you and not of yourself. Think of your community. The big message is to take it seriously. We have not had experience with our immune systems with this.”
The city response
Danville City Manager Ken Larking updated the city’s response to the health crisis.
“We have been working on this issue for several weeks since it became apparent it might be an issue,” he said. “I had early conversations with David Smitherman [Pittsylvania County administrator] and coordinated a meeting with Spillmann and the emergency response team two weeks ago.
“My approach with the city is how we can educate the public on what they can do to prevent the spread of the virus.”
He referred residents to the city’s website at www.danville-va.gov/coronavirus for the latest updates and multiple links to information.
“Our other focus has been in supporting small businesses,” he said, noting a new website with small business resources soon will be available.
He said the city also has deferred local taxes for meals and hotels and eliminated the disconnection of utility services for non-payment, as well as the $50 late payment fee on accounts.
“Any time we get information from the state or federal government, we try to push it out to the public through our media and hope the local media picks it up,” he said. “We are trying to be as transparent as possible.”
He said the city is open to creative ideas and complimented the public works department with deciding to block on-street parking so downtown restaurants could offer pick-up services.
Wi-Fi hotspots for internet access are available at the Carrington Pavilion, the Welcome Center, Ballou Park, Anglers Park and along Main Street.
The county response
Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman reported the county was focusing on the matters that could be controlled.
“We have a small staff and our emergency response teams of 12 rescue squads are volunteer,” he said. “We have had a difficult time getting masks and body suits, but we are working hard to get them.”
He said the county government is closed except by appointment.
“But we are cognizant that the construction community is still working, and we are facilitating construction with permitting, etc. by appointment,” he said. “We also have a very large pet center with about 300 animals on any day, and we are working hard to get them fostered. We are now down to less than 100 animals.”
The county also has identified those working with local industries in critical supply chains and making sure they can work and have the resources to supply the emergency industries, whether with supplies or logistics, he said.
“We have continued to run the solid waste operations at regular intervals. In fact, with more people staying at home, we have actually been inundated with more trash so we have had to increase the frequency of work,” he said.
The county also has set up several Wi-Fi hotspots, including at the front of all four county high schools, library parking lots, the Pittsylvania County Pet Center, the convenience centers and downtown Chatham.
Locations are listed on the county’s website at www. pittsylvaniacountyva.gov.
Jeff Haley, president and CEO of American National Bank, said like the health care system, banking is “always prepared for these situations.”
“The banks are open and doing business, just maybe a little differently, and there is no need to hoard cash,” he said.
He encouraged small business owners to call their banks before the bankers call them. “Be pro-active and be communicating about what will be offered from the Small Business Administration,” he said. “The portal for that help will be the banks.”
Answers to questions
Webinar attendees were able to ask questions of the participants, dealing with a variety of subjects.
Larson assured one questioner the hospital was “absolutely” safe to visit for both coronavirus symptoms and other needs.
He said the hospital has gotten a lot of questions about donations of homemade masks and soon will be putting out information on the best pattern and material for appropriate masking.
“But if you have donations of commercially prepared masks, please contact the hospital about them,” he said.
He also said the hospital is in need of blood donations for ongoing needs, not necessarily coronavirus needs, and the blood mobile is going out into the community for donations. Call the Blood Donor Center at (434) 799-3743 to donate.
Larking said firefighters, who usually respond along with the rescue squads to 911 calls, now need to wear masks and personal protective equipment.
“We have now added questions about virus symptoms when people call 911 so we can put first responders on alert. We are trying to be pro-active,” he said. “In fact, firefighters responded to the first COVID-19 patient and were at low risk because of the precautions they had taken.”
Larson added the responders then alerted the hospital and the hospital was prepared for the patient.
He explained a person being tested for the virus is a “person under investigation” and is assumed to have and is treated for the virus until the test results show otherwise.
“We do have testing kits but not enough as a region and nation to provide kits for everyone,” he said. “The test results take from a couple of days to a week to come back.”
Larson, also the board chair of the chamber, said it was important for the leaders in the community to have a positive attitude as a lot of disruptions have taken place.
“These are challenging times and I would call on all Chamber members and leaders of the community to rally together to share and be positive,” he said.
Spillmann closed the webinar by saying protective equipment, handwashing and social distancing shouldn’t keep anyone from being “supportive, patient and kind” to each other.
“This virus will pass and we will be a community even stronger than we are now,” he said.
Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7991.