City, county preparing to prevent COVID-19 from area

Published 7:37 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

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Growing concerns and fears for public health safety in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have compelled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to not only declare a state of emergency, but also close Virginia schools grades K-12 for a minimum of the next two weeks.

In Western Tidewater, the city, the council and respective school systems have already been preparing for the virus.

Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt stated recently, “The City of Franklin is actively monitoring COVID19 and is in constant communication with the Virginia Department of Health. We plan to abide by the guidance issued from the Center for Disease Control as well as the Virginia Department of Health. We are issuing reminders to staff about good hand washing practices, and respiratory etiquette to assist in the prevention of any disease. We are also staying in close communication with Franklin City Public Schools. Should the need arise, we will implement protocols outlined in the City of Franklin’s Emergency Operations Plan.”

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson also said the county continues to follow the matter closely, and is also getting daily reports and guidance from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia Department of Health.

The administrator also said that he participated in a statewide conference call last week with state officials about COVID-19.

Johnson added, “For now, while it’s important to plan for the worst, it’s also important to maintain perspective:

1. The risk of getting COVID-19 in the U.S. remains low;

2. Everyone should recognize the symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath. If someone is experiencing these symptoms AND has been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, they should call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room and tell them about their recent travel and their symptoms;

3. Everyone should remain vigilant in practicing and promoting good basic hygiene:

a. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.

b. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

c. Stay home when you are sick.

d. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Before it was announced by Northam, Johnson had said that if the governor declares a state of emergency — which he did on Thursday — “then there are state and local emergency operations plans in place to mitigate the health, public safety, social, and economic impacts of a pandemic. These plans include strategies and tools to adapt to an environment where there may be reduced capacity to sustain essential operations, services and infrastructure due to illness.”

Johnson continued, “Should an outbreak occur locally, we may temporarily suspend non-essential public services (administration, accounting, community development, information technology, etc.) or allow employees to telecommute and deliver non-essential services on a limited basis. We intend to maintain all essential public services (police, fire, EMS, public utilities, public works).”

Days before Northam had ordered the closing of Virginia schools on Friday, the Franklin City Public School System had issued this statement, sent from the office of Supt. Dr. Tamara Sterling, in reply to the paper’s questions about its preparedness:

Dr. Sterling and the FCPS team are working together to ensure the safety of all. On Thursday, March 5, during first period classes, a 30-minute professional development will be conducted with all students regarding proper precautions to avoid the spread of germs. A reverse 9-11 call will also go out tomorrow, informing parents of the letter that went home to them from FCPS.

Under our News section of the main page of our website, there is information on the COVID-19 and our efforts, which include a FAQ page. Our team is also reviewing and revising our current plan so that it meets the needs to ensure the safety of everyone in our school community. Dr. Sterling will also participate in the webinar that Dr. [James] Lane, the State Superintendent will provide on the latest information on plans in Virginia for dealing with the effects of COVID-19.”

On Friday, also before Northam’s announcement, Southampton County School System Supt. Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon announced, “Southampton County Public School Division has taken a proactive stance to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic to minimize the spread of illness. The school division is continuously monitoring and communicating with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to remain current on the status of coronavirus.”

She outlined several steps the schools taking, such as implementing a complete cleaning and disinfecting plan for facilities and vehicles. This plan was created this past Monday, and was begun on Wednesday.

The superintendent told the paper on Friday that the school division made plans on Monday that “Teachers have developed packets for students to maintain and practice learned curriculum and skills. There are online activities available as well.”

Most students got those packets on Friday, she added.

Further, starting on Monday, March 16, “the Food Services Department will provide meals in the Summer Food Service Program format. Meals will be available to everyone under the age of 18 in a household provided one child in the household attends Southampton County Public Schools.”

The question of location and other pertinent matters was being discussed that afternoon.

“We will continually monitor the pandemic in our area and work with our supporting agencies to make informed and responsible decisions,” the superintendent stated. “Information and updates will be shared through Instant Alert, letters, social media, and the Remind app. It is our hope that through an awareness and implementation of preventative measures, our Southampton County Public School Division family will stay healthy.”

To stay up-to-date, the CDC and VDH webpages have current information on these pages.



The Tidewater News will continue to update this matter as it develops.