BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced in a press conference Friday morning, the decision to close all schools statewide “until further notice” in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Public health officials insist that as of early Friday evening, there are no confirmed cases of the virus in West Virginia. However, Governor Justice earlier stated, “We know it’s here, we just haven’t found it yet.”
The announcement to indefinitely close all schools in the state followed several other shocking measures implemented earlier this week, such as the Thursday decisions to cancel the State Basketball Tournament in Charleston as well as the NCAA March Madness Tournament.
According to a press release, “While schools are closed to students, faculty and staff are expected to report to work. The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) has been working with county superintendents for several weeks to update emergency preparedness plans, which will now be implemented. Each county has worked with its local health department to meet the specific needs of children, families and communities. Child nutrition programs will continue throughout the school closure.”
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch stated, “I support the Governor’s decision to cancel school as a preemptive measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus.” Burch emphasized, “The health and safety of our children is our foremost concern. We will work closely with our community partners, including the West Virginia National Guard, state agencies, organizations, school employees and families to meet the needs of our students whether it be food distribution or other important supports.”
On the local level, the Upshur County Commission, Upshur County Health Department and the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management issued a joint press release following Justice’s press conference. The statement said, “According to the CDC, response to this virus should be the same as the common flu. If you are fevered (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), please refrain from public activity for 24 hours after your fever has subsided without medication. Refrain from touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands often.” The statement added, “Older adults, with risk increasing by age, and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are most vulnerable to this virus.”
Sue McKisic, Nurse Director of the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said concerned citizens can call the office where their information will be collected and sent to the WV Office of Laboratory Services in Charleston. The state office will then determine if the person is high or low risk and the decision of whether to test them for the virus or not will be made. McKisic said she currently has five sample test kits available at the Health Department and other providers do as well. She said, “You must meet criteria, not everyone will be tested.” McKisic added, “Don’t panic. Follow the CDC guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.”
Mayor David McCauley also issued the following statement Friday evening, “I want to reassure the citizens of our B-U community that our City is working closely with county health department officials regarding the threat posed by the coronavirus. I have spoken with Sue McKisic, director of our county health department, Schools’ superintendent, Dr. Sara Stankus, and County Commissioner Sam Nolte regarding their measures to minimize as much as possible the threats posed by this virus. We will be fully collaborative and interactive as public officials as we collectively address this health issue.” McCauley added, “In exercising an abundance of caution, we will close the Stockert Youth & Community Center effective immediately until our public schools reopen. Additionally, the Upshur Youth Arts Exhibition scheduled for tomorrow that was to continue through April 3 will be postponed until our public schools are again open. We apologize for all inconvenience, and especially to our children, but our concern for their health and the health of their families is paramount to all other things.”
Sarah Campbell stated, “After careful consideration, the Upshur County Senior Center has decided to remain open as of now. We will continue to monitor the situation and communicate with both our local Health Department and the Bureau of Senior Services to determine if we should need to close and how to ensure all our clients continue to receive vital services. We want to assure all that we are taking extra measures to sanitize high-touch surfaces in our facility and that we will be promoting frequent hand-washing in our center.” Campbell added, “As of Monday, we will also be asking that all visitors come through our main doors and have their temperature checked before participating in activities. Again, this is a precaution for all our clients and friends. If you have questions or concerns, we encourage you to reach out to us by calling 304-472-0528.”
While the suggested numbers of people for group gatherings has varied, the general consensus is to avoid large groups of people congregating in an area. Most have suggested to cease events with more than 100 people, but some area health departments have even suggested that people should not gather in groups of more than 30-40 people.
As one of the area’s largest healthcare providers, Community Care offered the following information, “It is the policy of Community Care of West Virginia to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of communicable disease. In relation to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus), we are taking precautionary steps to ensure our patients’ comfort and to prevent the spread of the virus if it does reach our communities. In the instance of an outbreak, we will plan to continue to operate all clinics during normal office hours. However, personnel and resources may be shifted between locations in order to best serve our communities demonstrating the highest need. During this time, we will enact additional measures that will minimize exposure to other patents, visitors and staff. This will include screening of symptoms over the phone, additional alerts, notices and instructions for proper hygiene and etiquette, separation of potentially symptomatic patients from other patients, dedicated equipment, and identification of essential personnel designated to treat potentially infected persons.”
The Buckhannon Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) stated, “Our organization is ready to assist wherever and however we are needed during this situation, as directed by the Chief of Police and the Office of Emergency Management. All of our VIPS members are CERT and NIMS trained, with a portion of that training covering response to situations such as this.” VIPS members also emphasized, “Please do not believe everything you read on social media right now about COVID-19 (or any other subject for that matter). Some posts are designed to cause panic and purposefully deliver misinformation. Always fact check the information before you share the post. If you are unsure about the validity of the information, do not share it.”
All officials emphasize that the most accurate and reliable information regarding the coronavirus can be found at the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/ For more information and updates on the coronavirus situation in West Virginia, you can also visit coronavirus.wv.gov or wvde.us/COVID19.