No cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 have been reported in Southwest Virginia, but the region is still feeling the disease’s impact.
In an effort to protect against the virus should it reach the area, state and local leaders are making some changes.
Here is a rundown of some of those changes:
On Thursday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and on Friday ordered all K-12 schools to close for a minimum of two weeks. Wythe and Bland county schools had planned to use Monday and Tuesday to make preparations for possible shutdown. Smyth County schools had already gotten a head start. All schools systems said they planned to use a mixture of Chromebooks, Google Classrooms and work packets for at-home instruction.
The school systems have also halted travel outside the area and have cancelled highly anticipated field trips.
Virus fears also disrupted schooling at several colleges and universities in the region. Radford University and University of Virginia’s College at Wise will begin online instruction on March 23. Virginia Tech, James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth were also numbered among the public universities to switch to an online model. Emory & Henry College is following the lead of those in the public space, extending spring break for an extra week until March 29.
On Thursday, Wytheville Community College announced all in-person classes would be cancelled until March 23 and Virginia Highlands Community College announced they would extend their spring break an extra week.
On Saturday, the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Bishop Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor announced a mandatory two-week cancellation of services. The Holston Congerence includes 864 churches in Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee and North Georgia.
Wythe, Smyth and Bland county community officials are also keeping a close watch on the situation. In Wythe County, local emergency services have secured resources for makeshift field hospitals should there be a large influx of infection. In Marion, town police are working on a telephone reporting system meant to decrease personal contact in non-emergency or non-active crime situations. Use of the tele-reporting system would be optional.
Smyth County and Town of Marion leaders are also increasing the frequency their properties are being cleaned.
Mount Rogers Health District Director Dr. Karen Shelton offered the following advice as a first-line of defense in protecting against the spread of the virus.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds— rub between your fingers and don’t forget your thumbs.
- Allow hand sanitizer to air dry. Do not wipe dry.
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue or the crook of your elbow.
- Stay at home if you are sick.
- Keep a distance of about six feet in social settings.
- Call your healthcare provider prior to your arrival if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19.