Guilford County interim Health Director Iulia Vann (left) and Emergency Services Director Donald Campbell (right) prepare to take questions about the spread of coronavirus. (photo by Jordan Green)
No cases of Covid-19 have been identified Guilford County to date, but interim Health Director Iulia Vann said “we’re bracing for that” during a briefing on Thursday afternoon. She added that the county public health department has not done any testing for the disease, and is not aware of any other testing being done in the county.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services confirmed earlier in the day that two individuals in neighboring Forsyth County have tested positive for Covid-19. The couple was on a cruise where other passenger also tested positive, and are reportedly at home in isolation.
Vann said her agency has three test kits that were received from the state public health lab, and if she said if they use any of them the state has committed to replacing them. Additionally, Vann said a private vendor has sent the public health department an unspecified number of test kits.
According to updated criteria issued by NC DHHS on Wednesday, individuals should ask their doctors or local health department about getting tested for Covid-19 if they have fever or lower respiratory symptoms, such as a cough or shortness of breath and they have fever and lower respiratory symptoms and a negative flu test.
“We are not recommending testing for asymptomatic patients at this time,” Vann said. “This might change as we move forward.”
Vann laid out a number of simple steps residents can take to minimize exposure to the virus.
“We want them to continue to wash their hands and make sure that they’re performing very good hygiene practices,” she said. “If they’re sick, to stay home and not try to expose anybody else. To cover their mouth if they’re sneezing and coughing. They’re using tissues. They’re making sure their home or the areas they’re frequently in — their office or wherever these spaces are that, they’re using disinfectant products to hit some of those high-frequently touched areas…. If you’re sick, call your primary-care provider and let them know that you’re experiencing some type of medical issues.”
Guilford County Emergency Services Director Donald Campbell said the county is “using the same framework we’ve historically used to respond to things like hurricanes” and other severe storms, while “modifying them slightly for a pandemic event like this.”
The last pandemic that affected Guilford County was the H1N1 event in 2008 and 2009, Campbell said.
“Honestly, we are using the lessons that we learned from that event — the things that we set in place for the H1N1 event — we have plugged them into this event, just with different names, some different tactics here and there,” he said. “But we’ve really used the lessons that we’ve learned during the H1N1 event to sort of set up the framework for how we’re going to manage this event.
“With H1N1, our focus, because there was a vaccine, was very much on a logistical of making sure that we could get a vaccine-shot clinic set up, so it was a logistical lift, as opposed to a containment and mitigation effort of cancelling mass events,” Campbell added. “There were no event cancellations during H1N1. Schools did not adjust anything. We did not have sick-outs or anything like that, so it was really logistically focused.”
Campbell said the county emergency-services division is coordinating with 120 agencies across Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point “to manage the information flow and make sure all of our agencies are engaged should this continue to escalate into a more community spread event overall.” The groups are currently meeting “virtually” at least once a week.
Campbell also said his office has been working with the High Point Market Authority, as he does with other large-event sponsors, to make plans for the biannual furniture market, which is scheduled for April 25-29. Home Accents Today is reporting that the pre-market, which takes place the week before the market, has been cancelled.
The furniture market annually attracts more than 75,000 people from more than 100 countries.
Campbell said his role is to answer any questions event sponsors might have, but he said it wasn’t his place to advise that the event be canceled. (Hours later, the High Point Market Authority announced that the spring market is being postponed.)
“I’m not sure that I can recommend or make a comment on the advisability of it,” he said, “other than we are passing that information along and making sure that they’ve got the information they need to make a good decision.”
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced the cancellation of the tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday, affecting large numbers of concession workers, security personnel and others employed both by the city and outside contractors. Next week’s NCAA tournament, scheduled for Thursday and Saturday, is at risk as well.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she and other city leaders are assessing the economic impact of the pandemic, including on people working the ACC tournament.
“We had some very preliminary discussions about city employees,” she told Triad City Beat. “Until we have a little more better feeling on the long-term impact, I don’t know. I can’t give a definite answer, but we will certainly be looking at that. We are looking at a lot of options. This is a fast-moving situation.”
Asked whether the city might follow the lead of Atlanta, where Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order halting the disconnection of water services for customers for the next 60 days in response to the pandemic, Vaughan said, “That certainly is a valid point,” while remaining noncommittal.
“I think it would be really important to let our community know that this is a serious situation, that we want them to take necessary precautions to make sure that they’re staying safe,” Vann said. “However, we do not want for their lives to be completely imbalanced at this time. So, taking the social distancing seriously, however not to feel like they’re being isolated and that they really have to lock themselves behind closed doors.”
UPDATE, 7:45 P.M.: The High Point Market Authority announced in a press release issued at 6 p.m. that the spring market, scheduled for April 25-29, is being postponed to June.
“Our board of directors will continue to monitor the situation, and we will remain in communication with the proper medical and elected officials,” Market Authority President and CEO Tom Conley said. “Our aim is to have a decision in early May as to if market can occur given the uncertainties of this rapidly evolving situation.”
Since the first furniture market in 1909, the event has only been cancelled once, in 1942, as a result of World War II. The market authority acknowledged the significant economic impact of the postponement.
“The decision was difficult, as any change in date could have tremendous economic repercussions on our industry and community, as well as the countless small businesses whose livelihoods rely on High Point Market, but underscores our shared concern and well-being of the citizens in our community and our industry partners,” said Dudley Moore Jr., chairman of the market authority’s board of directors and president of Otto & Moore.
Clarification, March 13, 5:20 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that Guilford County Interim Health Director Iulia Vann said a private vendor has sent the health department an unspecified number of test kits for Covid-19 samples.