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As cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) comes closer to the area, localities are stepping up and creating a plan for containing and surviving a potential outbreak.
Hampton recently announced it had created a special task group to ensure the area is prepared should the virus spread. That was March 3 and at the time there were no documented cases of the virus in Virginia but since then there have been seven cases confirmed or presumed positive, according to information on the Virginia Department of Health website.
On Tuesday, VDH confirmed two “presumptive positive” cases in Virginia Beach, according to a news release.
Another case was also reported in Loudoun County Tuesday, bringing the total number of presumptive cases in Virginia to eight — as of late Tuesday afternoon.
As the potential for more positive cases grows, task groups and response teams are popping up throughout the Peninsula.
Officials in James City County are continuing to work on the county’s Continuity of Operations Plan, said Sara Ruch, the county’s deputy emergency manager. Ruch said the county was working on updating the plan prior to the virus spreading but is doing so now with the coronavirus in mind.
The Continuity of Operations Plan means making sure every department is prepared for a potential outbreak. That means preparing for fewer staff, for telecommuting and other operations that could be impacted.
Ruch said those are similar measures that were taken during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
The county’s emergency operations team also meets for regular conference calls with VDH in order to stay up-to-date on information.
In York County, a team comprised of employees from various departments, including the York County School Division, has formed to monitor the spread of the disease and determine the potential impact on county functions, said Gail Whittaker, spokeswoman for the County.
The team meets regularly to create an operations framework in preparation for the potential spread to the area. Similarly to James City County, York County’s Emergency Management Department has also been in contact with representatives from VDH and has reviewed its emergency operations plan section on pandemics.
Public offices and buildings throughout the county have been provided access to hand sanitizers and disinfectants that employees can use for wiping down surfaces.
The county has also created a new page on their website with information about monitoring the spread of the virus.
In Williamsburg, executive staff meetings have been held to review the city’s emergency operation plan and to discuss preventative and response measures, according to the city’s website.
“It’s getting closer to home and it’s one of those things where we need to be aware,” said Lee Ann Hartmann, the city’s spokeswoman. “We want to stay on top of it and stay informed.”
The city also hosted a regional meeting with VDH’s Department of Emergency Management, emergency personnel from Colonial Williamsburg, William & Mary and local health organizations.
The city will be placing extra hand sanitzers at all entrances to city buildings and facilities in conjunction with adding additional cleaning and disinfecting procedures for custodial staff in public buildings.
Newport News and Hampton
Kim Lee, spokeswoman for the city of Newport News, said the city has also created a group to monitor the spread of the coronavirus and coordinate efforts as needed.
“The group consists of city and schools staff along with representatives from the Health Department and local hospitals,” she wrote in an email. “Additionally, we have communicated with our employees, and our 311 center is prepared to handle calls from citizens regarding coronavirus.“
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In Hampton, a special task group has been formed to help the area prepare for the potential spread of the virus. Officials from the city, schools and public health are meeting regularly to discuss updates on the virus and provide recommendations for protection to residents.
Hampton officials recommend residents to prepare like how they would in a hurricane. This means compiling enough prescription medications, securing medical records, stock enough food to survive two weeks and other precautions.
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools has also been preparing for a potential outbreak, according to the district’s website. While there are no confirmed cases in the district, division staff are still in regular contact with VDH, the Department of Education and the CDC.
The district is also preparing a “pandemic plan” that it plans to have posted on the division’s website by the end of the week.
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The division also posted a video to its YouTube page that demonstrated how schools and buses are cleaned to prevent the spread of any illness. (Story continues below the video).
The York County School Division has also created a page on their website to address the virus. On the page, the school district states that staff have been closely monitoring information from the CDC and there is a pandemic plan in place that has been annually updated and reviewed.