Representatives from Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Emergency Services and Mission Health held a press conference Feb. 28 about plans to prepare for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China — should the virus make its way to Buncombe County.
“We are aware of emerging concerns in our community around this issue and we’re sensitive to the way people have worries and to their feelings around this. I want to reiterate that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County or North Carolina at this point,” said Jan Shepard, director of Buncombe County HHS. “Preparedness and response is a core public health function, and in that way, we are doing this work all the time. We’re behind the scenes standing ready to respond to any emerging public health concerns.”
Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, said Mission’s leaders “fully anticipate” seeing the coronavirus in the community in the future but could not predict a timeline for its arrival. He said the health system has several plans in place should virus become widespread, including strategies for triaging and isolating infected patients.
HHS’s focus, said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, is to work with state and federal health departments to detect and contain people who become infected with the virus. The department’s medical director added that the county is working with area schools and preparing to reach out to local businesses with information about containing the virus.
While Mullendore emphasized that coronavirus is not an immediate concern for Buncombe County residents, she underscored the importance of preparing for a potential outbreak. “It’s not that I want people to be nonchalant about it. This is the time to prepare,” she said.
“Do I have enough food in my house to stay home for days to weeks? Do I have plans for if my child’s school or childcare is closed? What would I do with them? Those sorts of things are where I’m putting my personal energy in right now, to make sure that I have my stock of food and supplies at home for my family,” Mullendore continued. “It’s not here currently, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.”
People who may be currently experiencing fever or respiratory illnesses are most likely experiencing the effects of the common cold or flu, Mullendore added, which are actively circulating in the county. She reiterated that the best prevention measures are simple habits such as regular handwashing, covering sneezes and obtaining the seasonal flu vaccination.
Buncombe County HHS spokesperson Stacy Wood said the agency will be providing a weekly update on the status of the virus in a call-in format. General, nonmedical questions about coronavirus preparations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about COVID-19 in North Carolina is available through the N.C. Department of Public Health website.