Local leaders urge diligence in fight against COVID-19

Dewain E. Peek/OCN screen shot

David Cox of Livingston Regional Hospital announces the new visitor policy.

By Dewain E. Peek,

OCN Editor

As active COVID-19 cases in Overton County reached 33, local leaders held a press conference at Livingston City Hall on Friday, July 31 to once more ask residents to be vigilant in wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing to keep the coronavirus in check. Active cases had moved up to 39 in the county by Monday, Aug. 3.

Livingston Mayor Curtis Hayes opened the press conference and said that all City of Livingston employees have been mandated to wear masks while on duty.

He said that obviously, if an employee is performing a task that makes it difficult to wear a mask, such as digging in a ditch, then the employee can take the mask off until the task has been performed.

“We ask you, if you’re a visitor here at Livingston City Hall to wear your mask, as well when you enter any municipal building,” Mayor Hayes said. “We have masks available for those that need one, and they can come by and get a mask.”

Mayor Hayes asked that everyone wear a mask, unless a medical condition makes it difficult or prohibitive.

Next to speak was County Executive Ben Danner, who said, “We strongly urge everyone to wear a mask. We’re not mandating it.”

He said he knows most people don’t want to wear a mask.

“I realize it’s not comfortable to wear the mask this time of year; it’s hard to breathe with it,” Executive Danner said.

He said he has noticed more people wearing masks now and that should help.

“Even if we do mandate it, we can’t enforce it,” Executive Danner said. “We can’t make you wear a mask.”

He said more than half of the people coming into the county buildings are now wearing masks.

“We are not mandating the county employees right now to wear masks,” Executive Danner said. “It’s a little different set-up with the city and the county. I’m not over every individual office, so every individual office would have to mandate that. So, if any of those offices do mandate that, I’m all for that. But right now, we’re not doing that.”

He also said construction on the new county services building is moving along.

“We’re looking at the first of September to maybe start moving,” Executive Danner said.

He said sidewalks will be poured soon.

Next up was Overton County Health Department Director Andy Langford who noted that Overton County had reached a total of 123 positive cases, and that there were 33 active cases at the time of the press conference, and the county had one death reported.

He said cases in Overton County have doubled since the beginning of the month, with 65 positive cases in the last 30 days.

“Over the last four days, we’re averaging about 2.5 cases per day,” Langford said.

He said that was also about the average for Overton County.

“We are continuing to have a spike in our numbers,” Langford said.

He urged everyone to continue to be aware of the situation.

“We want to continue to ask the citizens to be diligent, to social distance, to wash their hands, to wear masks, do everything that you can do to try to stop this and keep it at bay, because we don’t want to be in the same situation that some other counties across the state or what we’re seeing across the nation,” Langford said. “We have seen a spike, a little rise, here. We could continue to see that. We want to make sure that we keep these rates low.”

He said Overton County Health Department has been collaborating with Director of Schools Mark Winningham and principals, nurses, and other staff in the school system on school reopening plans, and gave an overview of what would be done if a child at school were to test positive for COVID-19.

“They will be notifying us if they have issues,” Langford said. “We will be working with them if we have positive cases to coordinate contact tracing.”

He also urged parents to take the coronavirus seriously.

“I ask the parents of school children, parents please, if your children are sick, don’t send them to school this year,” Langford added. “You shouldn’t do that anyway.”

He said free testing is still available from 9 a.m. to noon through the week as a drive-thru at the Health Department. And he pointed out that free masks are still available from the Health Department.

Overton County Health Department Nursing Supervisor Megan Reeder then spoke of the difference between isolation and quarantine.

“We see these terms kind of used interchangeably a lot.”

She said isolation is for a positive confirmed case that must stay at home, and quarantine is where there’s contact to a positive case.

“So, isolation for a positive case of COVID-19, that is 10 days minimum,” Reeder said. “We want at least 24 hours at the end of that 10 days for a person to be symptom free. So that means without any medication, anything like that.”

Quarantine can be another story.

“Now, quarantine can actually sometimes be longer than isolation time because quarantine is the amount of time for a person, technically I guess you would say, to get sick,” Reeder said. “So, the incubation period of this virus is anywhere from zero to 14 days with an average being about 7 days. So, we have to allow for enough time for the viral load to reach a certain point that then that person would become contagious. So that’s what we’re looking for.

“If a quarantined individual that is a contact then tests positive, then we’re going to start over with our isolation time from the day of our positive test to ensure that we’ve allowed enough time for that virus to die inside that individual’s body.

“Now, we do know that an individual will shed the virus, and it could be months that they shed the virus, but we’re allowing for enough time for the virus to actually die so that the virus that they’re shedding is a dead virus and is not contagious to others.”

She said asymptomatic cases would be just the 10 days, and someone severely ill or hospitalized could be three or four weeks of isolation.

She said those who are severely ill should call ahead before going to a healthcare provider so the workers can have their PPE on upon the person’s arrival.

Tennessee Department of Health had issued additional guidance on Friday, July 24, stating, for persons previously diagnosed and recovered from COVID-19, who have new close contact with an infected person within three months of their recovery, quarantine is not recommended. In addition, retesting is not recommended within three months after the date of symptom onset for the initial COVID-19 infection. And critical infrastructure workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 and who remain asymptomatic may continue to perform the essential functions of their job as long as they strictly follow recommendations to reduce risk.

Next to speak was David Cox, Livingston Regional Hospital Director of Physicians Relations, who announced a change coming to the hospital beginning Monday, Aug. 3.

“We will be easing our visitation policy,” Cox said. “We will allow most patients one visitor per day. That is one patient, one visitor, per one day visit.”

Visitation is available for most of the hospital and by appointment only at Oak Point, according to Cox.

“Visitation will not be permitted for patients who are at high risk, on isolation, are immuno-compromised, or patients who are under observation or test positive for COVID-19,” he said.

Visitation hours are from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

“All visitors will be screened with temperature checks and asked a few questions to allow them admission in to see their family or loved one,” Cox said. “Visitors who do not pass the screening will be asked to reschedule their visit until they are symptom-free.

“All well visitors must bring a mask. A mask will not be provided for them on entry. This is to protect the personal protective equipment volumes at our hospital for our staff and our patients that we have in our hospital.

“We will still be practicing social distancing practices. Basically, whenever a patient is in the room with their family member, we still request they still stay 6 feet apart.

“Our scheduling process still keeps it to where patients are staggered to where they don’t have to, basically, be able to see or come into contact with other patients as well,” Cox said.

Director of Schools Mark Winningham then gave an update on the opening of schools.

“We still plan to open on August the 7th.”

He reminded parents who are apprehensive about their children attending school while COVID-19 is still a concern that they can have their children attend by virtual means. That option is available through the first two weeks of school.

“We will also have a person at each school that will be assigned as a virtual liaison,” Director Winningham said. “You may contact that person for information. You may contact the school. You may contact our Central Office for information regarding that. And that person will also be responsible for monitoring student progress throughout the year.

“If students are attending live, we do encourage strongly that they wear a mask. That’s not required at this time, but we do encourage that as a safety precaution

“We will also be providing bus transportation as normal, but we do encourage that if it is possible for parents or guardians to drop their children off, we encourage you to do that,” Director Winningham said.

“Those students who do choose to ride a bus will be required while they’re on the bus to wear a mask. It’s impossible to social distance on a bus, so we’re asking that those students wear a mask.”

Masks can be donated at the school, the Central Office, or the bus garage, according to Director Winningham

“Masks will be provided for students and for staff and faculty throughout the school system,” he said.

He also urged parents to watch their school’s website for drop-off and pick-up changes that may occur this year.

In the event of COVID in the classroom, he said closure of a classroom or an individual school might take place.

“That doesn’t mean that the school system wouldn’t close, but that’s what we’re looking at right now,” Director Winningham said.

Scott Stevens of Overton County Care and Rehab Center said there are no positive cases of COVID-19 in the building.

He said employees are now required to wear a plastic shield or goggles as well as a mask.

Stevens said no visitors are being allowed in the building, just video visits. He said the video app visits are still optional using Facetime or Duo, and that those wishing to visit family members virtually should make an appointment by calling 823-6403. The virtual visits are available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Anne Stamps of Dale Hollow Mental Health reminded the community that the facility is still providing medication management, therapy, and care coordination.

“They are all facilitated over the telephone at this time,” she said.

To get a first-time appointment call 1-877-567-6051. Stamps also mentioned that the crisis services are still available as well; for adults call 1-800-704-2651, and for children and teens call Youth Villages at 1-866-791-9223.

She touched on the effects of the lockdown.

“Folks react to stress in different ways, but this could cause some fear, anxiety, isolation, and some depression with folks,” Stamps said. “Obviously, there are different variables that are involved, but some of those changes that could happen could be change in appetite, sleeping habits, mood irritability, problems with concentration and activity level.

“Some folks may have some physical responses, which could be headaches, stomach aches, feeling excessively tired if they haven’t really done a whole lot, feeling kind of jumpy – their heart may race, they may feel sweaty, kind of shaky.

“If you, a family member, or a friend feel that way, if you would, just reach out to your mental health provider or your primary care doctor.

She also reminded everyone about self-care such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and limiting social media.

As for more care counseling being requested, Stamps said, “Right now, we haven’t seen a huge spike.”