Commissioners declare State of Emergency

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Board updated about how agencies are handling coronavirus pandemic

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Toe River Health District Nursing Supervisor Christy Duncan, left, speaks Monday, March 16, about steps being taken in the county to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus as commissioner Jeff Harding, center, and county attorney Lloyd Hise, right, listen. (Juliana Walker/MNJ)

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BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners met for a special session Monday, March 16, to discuss and proclaim a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Representatives from the Toe River Health District, Mitchell County Schools, the Mitchell Senior Center, Mitchell County Transportation and law enforcement spoke about how they are currently handling the crisis and their plans going forward. 

As of Monday, there are no confirmed cases in Mitchell County, but Mitchell County Emergency Management Director Kolby Silvers and Toe River Health District Nursing Supervisor Christy Duncan both commented the pandemic continues to be “a rapidly evolving situation.”

Because it is limited, Duncan said they are trying to test people who have had direct contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus or people who have symptoms only, such as a fever, respiratory problems and a negative flu test. 

Mountain Community Health Partnership Medical Director Josh Newton said the partnership’s priority is making sure there are enough supplies and tests to combat the pandemic. While they had nearly 150 tests, several hundred more tests would be arriving early in the week, Newton said. Now they are trying to implement telephone encounters for patients and a drive-through testing facility in the community. 

“Our goal is to try to keep [infected] people from being in the same area as our high-risk patients,” he said. 

Mitchell County Schools Superintendent Chad Calhoun also spoke about what the school system is doing in the wake of schools closing across the state. While K-12 students are not able to physically attend classes for the next two weeks, Calhoun said they are working to provide food to students who heavily rely on school meals. 

“We need to feed our kids,” he said. “That’s our first priority right now. You never thought you’d hear a superintendent say education is on the backburner, but education is on the backburner. We have to watch out for safety and welfare and help these children and try to make sure that they have food.”

Additionally, teachers are preparing an online curriculum for their students that should be rolling out by next week.

While the Senior Center has suspended congregate meals, they have started a drive-through at the center for people to pick up food, and they will continue to deliver Meals on Wheels as long as volunteers are willing. Senior center director Kathy Garland said they are trying to keep in contact with seniors via telephone every 24-48 hours to check-in and provide information about the virus. 

Mitchell County Transportation Director Sheila Blalock said vans are being sanitized at least once a day, and they are asking people not to ride if they are sick. They have organized shopping days to help people get to the grocery store for supplies. 

The formal proclamation of a state of emergency will create a committee that will consist of a county commissioner, a representative from the Toe River Health District and Silvers. 

County attorney Lloyd Hise said this committee would keep a close watch on the virus and with them, “if something needs to happen, it can be taken care of in a matter of hours rather than days.”

Read the full proclamation here.