By Bobby Bordelon
April 16, 2020
"The social distancing is working," explained Dr. Caroline Bridgett Morrison with the Greenbrier County Health Department. "We were predicted to have, by this point, 500 deaths in the state of West Virginia. We've had 12 deaths. ... That's awful, but when you look at the big picture of what was predicted, what has been put in place by our governor is working."
Called by County Commission President Lowell Rose, Morrison and other officials provided a local update to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including coverage of health and economic outlook.
In Greenbrier County, there have been six confirmed cases; two cases of out-of-county visitors and four that live or reside in the county.
"The four we have that are living and staying in this area, three appear to be travel-related and one is community acquired," Morrison explained. "All four of those have recuperated. One had to be hospitalized but is home and is doing much better."
In West Virginia, approximately 18,000 people have been tested, with only about four percent reporting positive results. Morrison compared these rural results to more urban centers, such as New York City, where as many as 35 to 50 percent of tests come back positive.
The economic impact of COVID-19 is being felt throughout the nation, with millions of people filing for unemployment. This includes residents of Greenbrier County. One of the primary industries of the county was one of the first affected by the virus – tourism. The county's largest employer, The Greenbrier, closed as the risk increased. Attempting to combat the trickle-down business losses, the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation and Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) emphasized the need for residents to continue utilizing local businesses, such as take out options for restaurants and shops.
"We urge you to support them, buy gift certificates, whatever it is you can do in this time to keep those folks in business," explained Kara Dense, executive director of the CVB. "There are a lot of shops that, even though you can't go in and peruse and look at what they have, they may have a website. ... Don't go to Amazon. We need to keep your local dollars here. ... It's so important because those businesses are suffering with not having the visitors here in our area."
For a list of local take out options, see https://greenbrierwv.com/editorials/to-go-dining.
For local shops open, including A New Chapter providing reading material for those stuck inside, see https://greenbrierwv.com/pages/263/shop-local-list.
Resources provided through several new bills from the U.S. Congress for small businesses are also available through the Economic Development Corporation. Although the organization cannot fill out an application for a business, they have provided quick links to the necessary application forms and can provide assistance if it is required. Those forms can be found at https://gvedc.info/covid-19-small-business-updates/.
Greenbrier County Homeland Security Director Mike Honaker explained that the number of calls to the 911 Center have not drastically increased. However, Honaker noted a lot of time has been spent debunking social media rumors, such as the completely incorrect construction of fencing along the state border. Honaker explained the stay at home order is not martial law, but it should be heavily considered before anyone leaves their home.
"We see both ends of the spectrum," Honaker explained. "We encounter people that want to know what authority or what right we have to restrict anybody, citing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then we have other people wanting to know why we have not already put martial law in place. ... We've even had people call to 'tell' on other people. 'Why are they leaving their house?' It's still America, you can still leave your house. A lot of these are guidelines and recommendations and it is working. We have to stay the course with this. We have to continue to do these things until we know where we stand."
In addition, continuing work toward recovering from the 2016 flood on several homes, including demolitions and home raisings, is continuing through the pandemic.
Honaker, Morrsion, and Rose each thanked the National Guard deployed to Greenbrier County for their assistance in many tasks, such as food distribution and coordination.
Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Brian Belcher noted that several ongoing projects, such as an over $1 million electrical system upgrade, would be moving forward at the airport, even as several services closed. The airport will remain open, allowing for essential, commercial, and private flights, but has closed Landings Restaurant and increased cleaning to provide safe travel.
In order to continue protecting public health, several testing sites have been established, but Morrison explained that due to limited supplies, testing is being controlled.
"Not everybody needs to be tested at this point," Morrison said. "In a perfect world, we'd test everybody, we'd know, but at this point with limited resources, we have to be diligent about that with the state lab. ... If you have an illness, if you feel like you're sick, you need to stay home and do the social distancing like we've been talking about."
In a press conference held in early March, Morrison explained when a person should seek care, emphasizing that any trip to a hospital or to a physician should be called in ahead of time, allowing them to prepare to take in a patient rather sitting in the waiting room, potentially exposing more people.
"When do you need to seek medical care? When you have a fever you can't control. Obviously if you get short of breath," Morrison said. "If you have symptoms that are severe, call your medical provider, let them know what your symptoms are. In that process, if they tell you to come in, [telling them your symptoms] allows them to be prepared, because we don't want other people exposed. ... If a patient is sick and they don't alert anybody and they go into the clinic or the [emergency room] without any masks, they can infect everyone else. If someone is sick and they're coming into a healthcare facility, we're encouraging them to put a mask on. ... One of the things we don't want you to do is run to the [emergency room], unless you're having shortness of breath, unless you're really sick, and [in that case, call] and let them know [you're coming] as well."