corona virus

Emergency Management, Public Health coordinating

By Beth Lawrence

Jackson County officials continue to prepare for possible cases of novel coronavirus, now called COVID-19, reaching the area.

“We want to be as prepared as possible to handle this crisis if or when it comes to Jackson County,” Emergency Management Director Todd Dillard said.

Dillard is coordinating with the Jackson County Department of Public Health to stay abreast of the issue. Emergency management, the health department, emergency services, law enforcement and county administration will hold meetings to prepare.

“We’re prepared … to come up with a game plan but also to get the information out to the first responders,” Dillard said.

There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County, the Department of Public Health said Monday in a press release. One case was reported Tuesday in Wake County.

The department is also coordinating with regional and state health and human services teams to stay updated and prepare for what may come, said Melissa McKnight, deputy director of the Department of Public Health.

“While we believe that this virus is very serious, the current immediate threat to the American public is considered to be low at this time,” McKnight said. “We are monitoring the case count and evolving global situation; informing partners when new guidance is available; informing the public via our website, social media and signage at our agency; and participating in meetings and conference calls with partners to make sure we are prepared and up-to-date on the latest information.”

The department is also working closely with Jackson County Emergency Management on plans to handle any situation that arises from the spread of the virus.

The county’s emergency management disaster plan currently in place works for “all hazards,” Dillard said.

“We are working hand in hand with the county health department,” Dillard said. “They are continuously sending us updates and information especially concerning major changes, so we’re just in a wait and see (mode).”

Should an outbreak occur here, Emergency Management would assume a support role for the Health Department. Dillard and his office would be in charge of securing any extra supplies such as personal protection equipment from the state that the health department might need.

The county does not stockpile those items because they are prone to degrading over long periods.

In an outbreak or concerns over one, the Department of Public Health would be in charge of making decisions to close facilities or call off large gatherings, Dillard said.

“That would be a public health emergency and they take the lead on that,” Dillard said.

Should alerts or information need to be disseminated, the county will use the Code Red alert systems.

To sign up for Code Red alerts visit jacksonnc.org and click the Code Red Weather Warning link in the middle of the page and follow the instruction on the next page.

Information on the virus or the county’s efforts to prepare can be found at www.health.jacksonnc.org. Follow the links on the lower right side of the page.

Western Carolina University Health Services is also working with the county public health agency to prepare for possible occurrences on campus, WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said.

“The university would operate under the directives of the local department of public health, which is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, and follow their guidance on lab testing, tracing and any isolation or quarantine needs,” he said.

WCU has updated its public health page with information about COVID-19 in efforts to keep staff and students informed.

The school has also canceled its student exchange programs and faculty-led trips to countries for which the CDC has issued travel advisories for spring and summer semesters.

“The university is closely monitoring CDC and Department of State advisories for other countries and will adjust accordingly,” Studenc said.

More information can be found at wcu.edu under the “News and Events” tab.

Jackson County Schools would also look to the Department of Public Health, Superintendent Kim Elliott said.

“We will meet again today (Thursday) for updates and any additions to the Jackson County Action Plan,” she said.

The CDC recently issued travel warnings for countries reporting large clusters of the coronavirus. A Level 3 travel warning to avoid any nonessential travel has been issued for China, South Korea and Italy and a Level 2 alert to practice enhanced precautions for Japan and Iran.