By Louie Graves
If — or when — the mysterious coronavirus hits this area, most local institutions will have had a chance to prepare.
In a well-attended meeting organized by Nashville Mayor Billy Ray Jones Thursday, about 70 persons representing area schools, government, industry, law enforcement, health care, churches, etc., sat for about 90 minutes in the Nashville High School cafeteria to learn about the virus and how to stop its spread.
Among the speakers was Nashville School Superintendent Doug Graham who admitted he had previously been a skeptic about the danger posed by the virus, but was now a believer.
He talked about how the schools would address a crisis. If classes were to be suspended, he said Thursday morning, students could keep up with school work online.
That plan took effect Monday, March 16, when Nashville and other districts closed for at least two weeks. Students will work on Alternate Method of Instruction (AMI) assignments posted on Google Classroom or sent to them through Remind.
“It is not a vacation,” he said, adding that all out-of-state travel by school personnel was suspended. He also said that the school had plans to assist students who might face food shortages at home. Grab-and-go lunches are available at a number of locations through this week. Next week will be spring break statewide.
Mayor Jones said that the best efforts should be spent to prevent the spread of the virus, but he warned if positive steps weren’t taken “Things could go south.”
Two of the speakers were from the Howard County Health Unit. Administrator Donna Webb and communicative disease specialist Sheree McKinnon noted that the unit had a pandemic plan in place since 2001, but that very little was known about this threat. Webb said that it was important to keep panic down. She referred the audience to websites of the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
Webb implored persons to consult the professional sites, not to get their information from Facebook.
At that point, there was one tentatively confirmed coronavirus case in the state, in the Pine Bluff area; 14 other cases were being investigated; and 111 travelers were being monitored.
The number has increased since then.
She gave a toll free phone number to a health department phone bank where people can get information or can report on their own well-being. The number is 1-800-803-7847.
Webb and McKinnon said that what the public needed to do is to “buy time,” by avoiding contracting the virus, giving medical science time to find a treatment and preventative vaccine.
McKinnon said to take normal precautions by having enough food on hand; washing hands frequently; and avoiding crowds.
Debra Wright, administrator of Howard Memorial Hospital said that prevention is the key to keep the virus from becoming epidemic, but she said the hospital has a plan to deal with any eventuality. Gayla Hooker of HMH talked about steps the hospital is taking.
John Gray of the ambulance service said that EMTs would follow protocols for picking up possible victims and transporting them. Even before picking up a possible victim, he said, the ambulance crew will have alerted the hospital.
Mayor Jones said that the group would continue to stay in touch online. “We won’t be meeting in a group again like this.”
The meeting was originally set for the school administration building, but was moved when it became obvious the attendance would be too large.