Resources in place for expected COVID-19 surge

The needed resources are in place now and in the foreseeable future to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local health officials said at a press conference Wednesday.

Nancy Bell, Public Information Officer for the West Piedmont Health District of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said that while she does not have a start date of operations for the test site at the Martinsville Speedway, when operational, “you drive up, you give some information about yourself and where the results need to go. You are tested right there and within 3-5 days, you have your results.The physician who ordered the test is the person that will provide those results to you,” she said.

The state health department does not “do testing and we do not analyze testing,” Bell said. “Our role is to receive every positive test result that comes back and to trace every individual that has tested positive and who they came into contact with and make recommendations such as self-quarantine and isolation.”

Dale Alward, CEO of Sovah Health — Martinsville, said “we are absolutely taking every measure possible to make sure that our patients are protected, that our employees are protected.”

Dale Alward, CEO of Sovah Health — Martinsville, was among the speakers to provide updates and details about the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference in Martinsville Wednesday.

Hospital staff are using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and “we have everything we need today and for the foreseeable future to manage what is coming through the door,” Alward said.

The hospital has 16 beds in the Intensive Care Unit, and enough supplies on hand both now and in the foreseeable future, Alward said. The hospital also has the capability to get more when needed and contingency plans are in place in case of increased needs during an anticipated surge.

Current models indicate that the peak of the surge may arrive in late April or May, according to information presented during Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference Wednesday.

Additionally, the hospital also is continuing to care for those with health concerns that are unrelated to the pandemic.

“Everybody that is coming to the hospital that needs care, gets care,” he said, and urged those seeking medical attention that is not COVID-19 related to continue to seek treatment at the hospital.

“Our hospital is ready to rock-and-roll,” Alward said. “People are stressed, I’m not going to lie to you, but this is what we do.”

In addition to Alward and Bell, other officials and community stakeholders provided updates about the local response effort.

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnick highlighted some of the city’s preventative measures, which include closing the administrative portion of the Municipal Building to walk-in traffic, using a window for accepting payments for various services, and using a questionnaire to screen those who must enter the building for court.

Even with those measures in place, and adhering to recommendations from the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Towarnicki said “everything that we’re hearing is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The number of cases in Virginia is going up every day. We’re doing everything we can to be reassuring to the community that we are ready to respond.”

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall discussed some of the county’s previous responses to the pandemic, such as closing the administration building to the public, using a drop box for payments and waiving fees for online payments.The county also has closed playground equipment, canceled overnight camping at the Philpott Marina and taken other precautionary measures.

He also encouraged residents to practice the recommended guidelines and precautions.

“If we can master these three things: Stay home, stay calm and stay engaged,” Hall said it will help during this challenging time. “This is as tough a situation as we’ve had to face because the enemy is invisible.”

Matt Tatum, Henry County’s director of Public Safety and Emergency Services, said that current staffing levels in career and volunteer squads are being maintained.

Additionally, “there are plans in place to address an increase in call volume and a decrease in staffing. We very quickly could run into a shortage of staffing” if rescue personnel are infected or exposed to the virus and must be quarantined, he said.

Tatum also noted that there is a “global shortage of” Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), from masks, to gowns and face shields. “The manufacturers are ramping up,” but access is limited now, he said.

As a result, rescue personnel may rely on “non-conventional ways of protecting themselves. We had to get creative at finding ways of protecting ourselves,” Tatum said.

He encouraged “if you’re experiencing a non-life threatening emergency, please don’t call 911. This is a challenging time for us all. There are a whole lot more questions than there are answers.”

John Turner, Emergency Services Manager in Martinsville, said the city’s operations mirror those in the county, with Martinsville rescue personnel operating under a protocol that uses a system of three tiers to help guide EMS workers responding to calls.

Currently, rescue personnel are operating under Tier 2, in which they try to educate patients about the risks of COVID-19, Turner said. Patients with non-life threatening concerns are encouraged to seek treatment from their primary care provider and/or visit an urgent care facility.

Also, rescue workers may respond to calls wearing goggles, masks and/or gowns, and may ask patients to wear a mask and/or “to come outside” while asking a series of questions to try and determine whether the patient may have coronavirus symptoms or if they have been exposed to the illness, Turner said.

Under the next step in the protocol, Tier 3, rescue personnel “have the option to refuse transport” if the call is a low priority, such as a stubbed toe, Turner said.

Sheryl Agee, impact officer/team leader with The Harvest Foundation, discussed efforts to ensure first responders and healthcare workers have access to affordable child care options through the creation of an Emergency Childcare Fund. Those who wish additional information about that program were directed to their respective employers.

India Brown, a program officer with The Harvest Foundation, said the agency is working with community partners that include the United Way, Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., Small Business Development Center, and city/county officials to develop a plan to help local businesses and nonprofit agencies impacted by the pandemic. Details of the plan are expected to be released within the next week.

Phil Wenkstern, executive director of the United Way of Martinsville-Henry County, said his agency is working to address disruptions in services that generally are available to help those most in need.

For instance, Wenkstern said Grace Network, which usually provides food to families in need shuttered its doors to protect volunteers and clients alike.

The United Way now is looking at options to help ensure the impact of disruptions is minimized by working with partners to find solutions to everything from food distribution to filling out taxes.

For more information, visit, or call (276) 403-5976.

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