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Emergency services prep for COVID-19

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Clark County, but public health officials, elected leaders, emergency service providers and school officials are making plans for how to respond to a local outbreak if one occurs.

There was a meeting Monday morning at the emergency operations center on Lexington Avenue, and a table-top disaster response exercise was scheduled for the afternoon to prepare for a full-scale exercise, probably sometime early next week.

“We brought in all of our stakeholders,” Emergency Management Director Gary Epperson said. “We are just making sure we all understand our roles and responsibilities.”

“Public health has been on top of this for some time, and so has the hospital,” Epperson said.

Public Health Director Becky Kissick said the operations center was activated to a Level 4 Saturday, which allows responders to have an “ongoing dialogue” about the situation and what will occur if there should be a local case of the potentially deadly illness.

“We started conversations with some of the main partners maybe two weeks ago,” she said.

According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ coronavirus website, kycovid109.ky.gov, the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s State Health Operations Center is now operating at Level 1, its highest activation level.

The first case of the respiratory illness Coronavirus-2019, or COVID-19, was detected March 6, and as of 5:30 p.m. on March 8, 21 people in the state had been tested, with four testing positive and 17 testing negative. The confirmed cases were in Fayette, Harrison and Jefferson counties.

In the U.S., there have been 423 cases and 19 deaths in 35 states, but the virus that began in Wuhan, China, has spread around the world, and numbers of people infected are high in some other countries.

Epperson said Kentucky has an “adequate” number of coronavirus test kits, but Kissick said people can not go to the Clark County Health Department expecting to be tested.

“That has been a point of confusion,” Kissick said. “Those tests have to be done by a clinician in a negative pressure isolation room. We don’t have the ability to do that here.”

Kissick said the University of Kentucky Hospital can do the tests, but she didn’t know whether Clark Regional Medical Center could also. An infectious diseases specialist from CRMC could not be reached before The Sun’s print deadline Monday to answer that question.

She said there is a “screening matrix” that involves the clinician conferring with a state epidemilogist to determine whether or not to test an individual.

If the state laboratory gets the test specimens in the morning, Kissick said, the results are available the same day, and if they get them in the afternoon, they will be available the next morning.

“It’s a pretty tight turnaround,” she said.

Those results are then provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for “an additional layer of verification.”

Kissick said there also is a state coronavirus hotline — 1-800-722-5725 — people who are sick can call to talk with trained professionals who know what questions to ask about symptoms, recent travel, pre-existing health conditions and other factors.

Symptoms are similar to those for influenza and colds: fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Elderly people, those with respiratory conditions and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

“There is a lot of concern across the state right now,” Kissick said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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