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Living in fear of the Coronavirus / March 18, 2020
Safety concerns tied to COVID-19 have upended daily life as schools are closed and local events are cancelled in the effort to keep the disease from spreading.

Fear of the pandemic has turned some local residents into hoarders even though, for now, there are no confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the area and there is no indication that people in Southside Virginia will be asked to shelter-in-place to maintain isolation from others.

As of early Tuesday evening, there were 67 confirmed cases of the virus in Virginia among 1,028 persons tested. Most of those infected are from Northern Virginia or the Eastern Peninsula.

Some shoppers have responded to the crisis by clearing out local grocery and drug stores of hygiene and food items. On Sunday morning, shelves that had been stocked with meat, bread and toilet paper at local Food Lion and Walmart groceries were laid bare, and many local pharmacies saw their shelves stripped of face masks and hand sanitizer.

One local shopper who was leaving Food Lion with a cart full of toilet paper and water said emphatically that she was “stocking up” because these items came from China and shipments of goods from there have been halted, an erroneous belief. The Washington Post reported this week that food producers and supply chain managers say there is generally enough nonperishable food on store shelves, in warehouses and coming off production lines to last several months.

Sections of local grocery stores that mostly remained lightly touched and well-stocked amid the health crisis were the fresh fruit and vegetable displays and frozen food cases.

The nearest reported infection is of a student at Longwood University in Farmville. A spokesperson for the Piedmont Health District said the student has mild symptoms and may have contracted the virus from a family member who lives outside the area. The student has been in self-quarantine since March 9, the day after arriving on campus. Two other students who shared the same living space were also quarantined as of March 11.

Officials with government, education, religious and health care organizations are continuing to monitor the situation, as are sponsors of major events. They are being forced to make tough choices — to close or cancel events, or risk spreading the coronavirus.

Local government offices say they will remain open for now, although the Town of Clarksville is encouraging residents to use remote services such as the U.S. Mail to make payments for taxes and utility bills. Clarksville Town Hall is also limiting outside travel by employees for training events and conferences.

The Town of Chase City is also asking residents to limit personal contact in town offices.

In South Hill, Town Manager Kim Callis said town offices will stay open to serve residents in need of municipal services. Callis said The Colonial Center for the Performing Arts has postponed or canceled all upcoming events, and the theatre cancelled the final weekend of performances of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” by the Colonial Actors Theatre Society (CATS).

The benefit beach music concert for the Mecklenburg County Cancer Association that was to take place Saturday, March 14 was called off for the time being.

County Administrator Wayne Carter said “it is business as usual” at county offices, which will remain open for anyone requesting services. Local library branches also will remain open. The Town of Boydton plans to follow the lead of Mecklenburg County.

In the Town of La Crosse, officials are monitoring the situation and do not currently plan to close town offices.

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that all K-12 public schools in Virginia would shut down through March 27, at a minimum. On Sunday, the governor also banned all public events with more than 100 people, but stopped short of issuing a mandated quarantine. Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is even more restrictive — it is asking groups to postpone events where there will be 50 people or more.

“If you are planning an event with several people, you should cancel it, period,” said Northam on Sunday.

The Children’s Center at Clarksville Baptist Church is remaining open for now since parents still need a safe place for their children while they are at work, according to the program’s director, Georgene Glasscock. However, she is implementing cautionary protocols. Glasscock said she spent Monday morning taking the temperature of every child before allowing them inside the building.

The Virginia High School League (VHSL) has put spring sports on hold at least through March 27. Teams are not allowed to practice or hold games during the hiatus. Dixie Youth Baseball and Softball decided to postpone their seasons, with plans to restart play once schools are back in session.

Northam’s order barring mass gatherings does not apply to businesses or churches, but late last week, the bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church suspended all services for churches under their jurisdiction for two weeks.

Rev. Susan Grimm, priest at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Clarksville, said the upcoming community Lenten services scheduled for March 25 at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church and on April 1 at Jamieson Memorial Methodist Church in Clarksville are canceled — as is the Clarksville Community Sunrise Easter service on April 12, “out of an abundance of caution.”

Grimm said she has not heard whether the House of Prayer will move forward with its plans to hold the annual community Palm Sunday walk and service on April 5. Pastor Lucas Glasscock told The Sun on Tuesday, “Just don’t know about Palm Sunday.”

Local hospitals and elderly care centers — among them, VCU Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill and Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, and long-term care facilities such as Chase City Health and Rehab in Chase City, The Hundley Center and Mecklenburg House in South Hill, Sentara Meadowview Terrace in Clarksville, and Sentara Woodview, Berry Hill Health & Rehab and Commonwealth Senior Living Center in South Boston — also have banned or restricted outside visits, even by family members, until further notice. Providers generally make exceptions for end-of-life situations.

The Meherrin River Regional Jail sites in Alberta and Boydton are also closed to visits by the public.

On Saturday, The Garden Club of Virginia announced it was canceling Virginia Historic Garden Week that was planned this year for April 18-25. This event was to include a special celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Garden Club of Virginia, as well as tour stops in South Hill and Chase City.

The Wall That Heals exhibit, a traveling tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War, was scheduled to arrive in Boydton for public display from April 2-5, but that, too, has been cancelled. Staff at the Boydton Library said the area has been given the right of first refusal to bring the exhibit to Boydton next year.

McKenna Luzynski, epidemiologist for the Southside Health Department, warns against falling prey to panic, while also encouraging the public to observe sensible hygiene and socialization practices.

“Less than five people have been tested for the virus” in the Southside Health District, which encompasses Brunswick, Halifax, and Mecklenburg counties, and all tests have been negative, said Luzynski. Still, “we need to be diligent and practice good hygiene.”

Her tips are the same as those issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO):

» wash your hands for at least 20 seconds regularly, especially after using the restroom,

» avoid shaking hands or hugging others,

» cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand,

» avoid touching your face especially around your mouth and nose,

» if you are sick, stay home.

While Luzynski says local health departments have kits available for testing potential coronavirus patients, the state office has established criteria for who qualifies for testing at local department sites. Testing is available to people who exhibit symptoms being exposed to the virus through contact with someone who has tested positive, and to people who exhibit symptoms after returning from overseas travel.

People who do not fit either of the above profiles are directed to seek medical attention and testing from their health care provider, according to Luzynski. That provider must take the sample — nasal and oral swabs and sputum — and submit the sample to an appropriate medical lab, such as LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics.

Northam, in remarks Sunday warning of the severity of the outbreak, said, “This is a public health crisis — we must all treat it as such … It is all of our responsibility, yours and mine, to keep each other safe and healthy.”

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