Published on March 14, 2020

Health Officials Update Coronavirus Response

By Amelia Harper, Staff Writer
Rocky Mount Telegram

There are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 corona virus in the Twin Counties, local health officials said Friday during a press conference at City Hall concerning the newly declared state of emergency in the city.

“We have no confirmed cases in Edgecombe County as of today,” Edgecombe County Health Director Karen Lachappelle said.

Trey Wright, deputy health director for Nash County, said Nash County had no confirmed cases as well.

In a statement to the Telegram on Friday, Dorsey Tobias, executive director of marketing, communications and strategy for Nash UNC Health Care, said that no patients at the hospital had even been tested for COVID-19.

“We have not yet had any patients meet criteria to be tested in our hospital,” Tobias said. “We have worked with the health department on some rule-out cases who were self-isolated in their homes, but those did not test positive.”

Lee Isley, CEO and president of Nash UNC Health Care, outlined the procedures the hospital has implemented to deal with the current situation at Friday’s press conference. He also offered advice for local residents on how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“We have been in constant contact with UNC Health, partnering with our local and state health departments in coordinating with the CDC guidelines regarding novel coronavirus,” Isley said. “We would urge the public to continue to adhere to the governor’s and the health department’s and CDC’s guidelines of social distancing and avoiding or limiting large events over the next several weeks as the spread of this disease continues to continue over the state and our nation.”

Isley said that management of a contagious disease is part of the hospital’s robust emergency management plan.

“Isolation and treatment of patients with potential coronavirus or any communicable disease is something our teams at Nash UNC and the health department are trained to handle, while also maintaining a safe environment for other patients and our staff,” he said. “We’ve assembled a local task force at Nash UNC Health Care to continue to develop and implement a measured approach while planning for the potential tiers and phases of this outbreak and disease process.”

Isley said the hospital plans to implement stricter visitor regulations in the near future. UNC Health Care already has implemented these policies but is allowing local hospitals in the system to decide when the precautions will be implemented at their location. Despite notices posted on some local social media sites, these new regulations have not yet been implemented at Nash UNC Health Care, though they likely will be implemented sometime next week.

“The public will soon see and hear from us that we’ll be implementing stricter visitor regulations to reduce the spread of the potential virus in our community,” Isley said. “Patients will be able to designate one visitor for the duration of their stay, and that visitor will be subject to medical screening as they enter the hospital and our organization. Those details about these restrictions will be announced the first of next week as we implement and limit the access points for visitors into our campus. The importance of this is that many of our patients have compromised immune systems and are most vulnerable to the worst and most severe symptoms and conditions of the coronavirus.”

Isley urged residents who feel they may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus to self-isolate. The symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. He also urged such residents to call their health care professional or the state health department’s 24/7 hotline at 866-462-3821.

“We’ll work together under the CDC guidelines to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19,” he said. “The important thing is to call ahead to have your health care provider determine if it’s appropriate to go to the medical office or the hospital.”

Residents still should call 911 or go to the emergency department if they have emergency needs, but they should call ahead, if possible.

“Calling ahead will help the emergency department team route you through the appropriate entrance and allow them to prepare for your arrival, which will help expedite your care as well as prevent potential exposure to patients in the hospital who already have compromised immune systems,” Isley said.

Lachapelle said the Edgecombe County Health Department also is coordinating with state and local health officials and the hospital in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

“In public health, this is what we do best, dealing with communicable disease,” Lachappelle said. “This is not the first time we do this. We do this every day at the public health department. And you can rest assured that we are ready and prepared for this and moving forward.”

Wright urged attention to personal hygiene as the best defense against the virus.

“One of the biggest things we cannot stress enough is cleanliness,” Wright said. “Always make sure you wash your hands. And think about the contact surfaces that you touch. You don’t know who else has touched these surfaces.”

News Media Contact

Kenyon "K.J." Askew, Jr., Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, at 252-962-8766 or by email.

If calling after hours, please dial the main hospital line at 252-962-8000 and ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on duty and identify yourself as a member of the news media. He or she will be able to assist you.

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