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As Coronavirus concerns continue to grow daily, McDonald County health and business leaders are taking drastic action to mitigate the potential impact.

From schools to businesses, officials are putting into practice some major changes and monitoring the ever-changing covid-19 situation closely.

Critical, accurate and up-to-date information is gathered and shared among local, state and national officials, Gregg Sweeten, McDonald County Emergency manager, said.

"The health department, my office, Freeman Ambulance, nursing homes and the health care providers here have been in constant contact (including conference calls) with the governor and the Missouri State Health Department," Sweeten said. "The McDonald County Health Department has been providing personal protective equipment and training to the first responders over the last week," he said.

"Our emergency operations center is on a standby state of readiness and information is flowing between all the proper agencies."

The coronavirus is a highly contagious virus that currently has no cure. According to the McDonald County Health Department, the virus is easily spread by close contact with a sick person. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. At most risk are older adults and those with chronic health conditions, according to information provided by the department. Worldwide, more than 7,158 people have died from the virus. In the United States, 100 people have died. Health officials say the majority of people experience mild symptoms.

In McDonald County, the Southwest City and Anderson police departments, Sweeten's office, the McDonald County Sheriff's Office and the McDonald County Health Department are teaming up to distribute packets and information to HUD residents in each town. Each packet is complete with hand sanitizer, a thermometer and information.

"The older people are most vulnerable for complications," Sweeten said.

The health department in Pineville, operating as a drive-through service for the public, is providing personal protective equipment and training first responders more about the virus and how to respond. Health officials, who learned a lot about quickly-moving viruses during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, have been very well-prepared, Sweeten said.

"Even before day one, they have been ready to go for something like this."

Some fire departments in the county may suspend responding to minor medical calls. Keeping first responders and medical personnel as safe as possible is the first line of defense in this coronavirus fight, Sweeten explained.

"Our EMS personnel are sent each time there's a call," he said. "They have to be prepared and have on the proper equipment before they even enter the house."

As of press time, the state of Missouri had 15 recorded cases, with four in Greene County. No cases have been reported in McDonald County, Sweeten said. More than 266 tests have come back negative, he added.

The first case was identified in the state of Missouri on March 7, according to information presented by Governor Mike Parson.

State officials are moving quickly to find ways for additional tests for the virus. By April 1, the state will be able to process 10,000 tests a day, Sweeten said.

The University of Missouri and Washington University will bring tests online, as well as commercial labs LabCore and Quest. A private lab in Lee's Summit also will go online, he said.

"It really ramps up what we can do," Sweeten said.

Locally, the health department is providing tests for those who fit specific criteria: dry cough, fever, have been out of the country traveling or been exposed to someone who has the virus. Otherwise, folks can pay a fee for the commercial lab to test them, he said.

To continue a strong line of communication, Sweeten participates in a conference call weekly with the Missouri Governor and has a conference call set with the White House today (Wednesday.)

The Missouri State Operations Center is ready to fulfill the resources needed. The National Guard also is ready to assist.

Locally, officials met with the McDonald County Commissioners on Monday, making sure all leaders are "on the same page."

"We have to have the same message going out," Sweeten said. "We have to keep the fear down, which would only cause more issues."

United States President Donald Trump, in addition to the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state's Health Department, hold press conferences and post information online and provide the general public with various updates throughout the day.

As concern grows, steps are being taken in McDonald County to keep residents safe.

McDonald County students, who are on spring break this week, now will be out until April 3, superintendent Mark Stanton posted in a memo on Monday. The cancellation includes all co-curricular and extracurricular events and practices.

"Please know that this decision was not made lightly as we recognize the hardship extended time out of school places on many families in the county," Stanton wrote. "We will continue to work to find ways our district can reach out and provide assistance to students and families through this lengthened school break," he wrote.

Goodman students, who are part of the Neosho School District, will have an extended spring break through March 22, according to a memo from Superintendent Jim R. Cummins.

"During this coming week, we will continue to monitor the covid-19 situation both nationally and locally in order to plan for the future," he wrote. "Our number one priority is the safety of our students and staff. We are also working on methods of instruction that would continue the education of our students should this become extended."

Officials said, looking at the landscape, "it seems like the closure will continue further."

The district wants to continue to provide meals while school is not in session, Cummins said in the memo.

McDonald County Chamber of Commerce officials said last Friday that they are postponing the annual Health Fair & Business Expo, scheduled for Saturday, March 28. Another date has not yet been chosen, officials said.

Officials hope to determine a future date for what they call a successful event many enjoy. For information, email info@mcdonaldcountychamber.org.

Pineville's buildings on the square and its community center are closed for the foreseeable future, Sweeten said. The McDonald County Courthouse and Pineville City Hall are still open to foot traffic but have signs posted that those who believe they may be infected with the virus, or have been exposed to the virus, not enter the building, Sweeten said.

The McDonald County Library has closed until further notice. Patrons will be able to access digital options, such as ebooks, e-magazines, and downloadable audiobooks, officials said.

Those who wish to buy toilet paper, bleach and other supplies should note that the Jane and Neosho Walmart Stores are two amongst a line of stores that are closing from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

Walmart, as a company, said that stores will close during those hours to "clean and stock products."

General News on 03/19/2020

Print Headline: McDonald County Officials Make Changes Amid Coronavirus Crisis

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