Highlands Town Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to proclaim a state of emergency (SoE) allowing town staff, law enforcement officers, and emergency personnel to implement the provisions necessary to address the COVID-19 situation.
With the SoE proclamation, Town staff can expedite plans of action in response to the emergency without going through proper processes and protocols that can help minimize costly delays. It also gives law enforcement power to enforce SoE guidelines and issue citations for violations, such as the ban on gatherings of over 10 people.
Highlands has taken several actions to minimize the spread of coronavirus in addition to the federal and state guidelines currently in effect:
- The Town website has links to several informative resources. Click HERE to see available resources.
- All Park and Recreation Department facilities and programs have been closed/suspended until further notice.
- Plans are in motion to create a message board to document all Town actions taken in response to COVID-19.
- The Town has suspended shutting off utilities at this time. No changes in late fee policies, but that may be addressed in the future.
- Town employees who are sick, or their children or spouse are sick, are encouraged to stay home.
- The Town is working with schools to provide meals for children and elderly.
- Plans are in the works to stream future Town Board meetings live online for easier accessibility.
“This is a very fluid situation that changes by the hour,” said Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor. “We are responding and keeping up as best we can and making sure essential services are met.”
Proclaiming a SoE also makes Highlands eligible for state and federal funding in the future.
Highlands-Cashiers Hospital update
Highlands-Cashiers Hospital Chief Executive Officer Tom Neal participated in the meeting via conference call and has been in close contact with local health departments and Town staff to develop a preparedness plan and dispel rumors that HCH is overwhelmed.
“Our over-arching goal is to keep patients, staff, and visitors safe,” said Neal. “It’s business as usual besides the focus on the hospital now, but we have been well in front of this. Any rumor that we’re in panic mode is false. Stay calm, the hospital is there for your needs.”
Public health officials recommend the following steps to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including influenza and COVID-19. Click HERE to learn more from Mission Health.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue
- Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands often, using either soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel for at least 20 seconds
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Neal said area hospitals are not performing COVID-19 testing. Specimens are being sent to public health departments and results can take 2-4 days. Of the 32 tests performed by Macon County Public Health Department, 5 are confirmed negative and 27 are still pending.
While tests are pending, patients remain in social isolation and are monitored and checked on daily by health professionals. Neal said before patients are tested for coronavirus, they are tested for other diseases and bacteria to rule them out first, such as flu or pneumonia.
“I don’t think people were taking this seriously a week ago, but they are now,” said Neal. “This is a time to work together to contain this virus.”
He added that coronavirus spread so quickly in Italy that medical services were overwhelmed, and stressed the importance of following the recommended guidelines, especially social distancing.
With a SoE enacted, HCH can call on extra resources if need be, including retired doctors and nurses.
Commissioners asked what kind of timeline there was for developing a vaccine and Neal said given the available information, it could take about a year to produce the necessary vaccinations. However, this is a new virus that does not react well to warm climates, so it’s not known how the warmer summer months will affect it’s spread.
Stay tuned to Plateau Daily News as more information about COVID-19 becomes available.