Three local residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in Montgomery County, according to Montgomery County Health Department Director Mary Perez-Baldwin. As of Tuesday afternoon 44 individuals have been tested, with 22 of those being negative, and results are still out on the other tests. Tests results being performed by Atrium are being returned the next day; however, tests performed by the state and some other private labs are taking considerably longer, sometimes 7-10 days for results to be returned. 

Despite the desire to know who these persons are and if they have been in contact with anyone, Perez-Baldwin cannot identify the individuals; however, Perez-Baldwin said they would be in contact with individuals these persons may have been in contact with. She noted that there is a correlation between the three positive cases. Perez-Baldwin also stated, “At this time, the individuals are isolating at home and willingly cooperating with public health officials. Montgomery County Department of Health team members are monitoring the individuals at this time and are working to identify any close contacts to contain potential spread. From contact tracing, these individuals had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no currently known community spread in Montgomery County.” 

On Friday afternoon the county declared a State of Emergency and closed all county offices to the general public. All five towns have also declared a state of emergency and have also closed to the general public; however, the county and the five towns have all made provisions for the continuation of services to the public. 

In addition to the closing of schools until May 15, at which time the decision will be reevaluated, restaurants are now limited to takeout only and all but the fast food restaurants are being hit hard, with business down significantly and with customers who are not familiar with tipping for take out orders. Additionally, barbershops, hair salons and gyms are all ordered to be closed as of Wednesday at 5 p.m., leaving those employees without an income.

Grocery stores are being overrun during this time and rumors of price gouging along with false statements about employees’ testing positive for the coronavirus are taking a hit to morale. Bryan Dozier, owner of Food King stores in Troy, Biscoe and Mt. Gilead, says his stores have been the victim of social media rumors and he plans on taking action. Dozier noted that a young employee had the sniffles last week and was tested for the virus. This individual does not have those test results back; however, the employee is calling asking if he can come back to work, a request Dozier denied. Dozier had high praise for his employees who are working long hours to keep the shelves stocked and recommended that people not believe much of anything they see on social media.

As of Monday all campgrounds in the Uwharrie National Forest are closed until further notice. Hiking from trailheads is still permitted. Uwharrie National Forest maps can be found on pages 13 and 14.

Yesterday the towns joined with the county as they listened in on a conference call between Gov. Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. As a follow-up to that meeting the local towns and the county held a conference call to discuss the plans that have already been put into place and any future plans that are anticipated. 

Many of the questions were for Perez-Baldwin in regard to current guidelines and testing options. She noted that the guidelines are fluid and as the number of cases increase the state is working to adapt. The current guidelines state that an individual showing no symptoms will not be tested, even if they have been in contact with another individual. Additionally, Perez-Baldwin noted private providers no longer have to alert local health officials if they test an individual; however, all tests results, even if tested out of the county, are reported back to the county health department where the individual resides. 

No personal information (name, address, etc) will be given in regard to any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. This is a HIPPA requirement.  No businesses will be shut down because of a positive test. The County Health Department will ensure positive cases remain quarantined and will contact those exposed to positive cases. 

Current guidelines call for social distancing, washing of hands with soap and water, avoid touching nose, mouth and eyes, disinfect often and limit gatherings. Symptoms may include fever (100.5° F), cough, and shortness of breath. If you are experiencing mild symptoms, you are recommended to stay at home. If your symptoms begin to worsen (e.g. increasing fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, altered thinking, cyanosis) you should call your doctor/healthcare provider. To protect yourself and others, you should call before making a visit to a healthcare provider. 

Health department officials also stated, “It is important to use accurate and reliable sources for information on COVID-19. These sources include NC DHHS, the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Montgomery County Department of Health. Beware of claims that cannot be verified by one of these sources.” Residents with COVID-19 symptoms should call the State hotline at 1-866-462-3821 or the County Health Department at 910-572-1393.

Scams

There are already individuals trying to take advantage of the current crisis. The Better Business Bureau is warning people to beware of the potential for scams, no matter how legitimate they may sound and to not give out personal information to anyone.

County

The county has made extensive preparations to handle this crisis in the most effective manner.  County manager Matthew Woodard stated, “Many of our actions involve the separation of employees in mission critical areas in order to ensure essential services continue.” Some of those actions include:

• Meetings were held over the last two weeks with North Carolina Emergency Management, FirstHealth Montgomery Memorial Hospital, Emergency Medical Services, local medical providers, the 911 Center administrator, volunteer responders, and the local Emergency Manager to coordinate responsibilities.  Examples of the outcomes of those meetings: (1) first responder code word originated and disseminated by 911 to indicate possible COVID-19 patient to ensure only EMS responds (limit exposure to rescue, law, and VFD); (2) personal protective equipment (PPE) secured for volunteers and staff; (3) local medical providers being informed as to when and when not to send patients to health department for testing (State and CDC have strict conditions for testing).

• Closed county offices to public to reduce exposure risks to critical employees.

• Declared County State of Emergency in advance of our first positive case.  

• Further steps taken to protect essential staff: Adult Protective Service and Child Protective Service staff split into field operations and in-house operations (restricting physical contact exposure to each other).

• Certified water plant operators provided protective workspace and private bathroom facilities to restrict exposure from other employees.

• Four separate 911 stations set up in three different buildings to ensure 911 operations continue.

• Environmental Health Specialists separated and working from the field to ensure restaurant inspections can continue.

• Established “worst case” scenarios for water plant and 911 to quarantine essential personnel if the spread of the virus reaches pandemic proportions locally. 

• State has waived recertification requirements for food stamps and Medicaid eliminating most in-person visits and will ensure clients receive funds uninterrupted.

• State has not waived in-person new Special Assistance applications so staff are doing those new applications by appointment to limit risk exposure and waiting room time for clients.

• County has switched to frozen and shelf stable meals and delivering 10 meals per client for Meals on Wheels clients.

• Residents needing help with other services (food, rent assistance, childcare, etc.) should call 1-888-892-1162 or 211.

• County has discontinued all water customer shut-offs for 90 days and will waive all late fees.

• County website is being updated daily with information as it becomes available.

• Sheriff has restricted access to the Montgomery County Detention Center (video visitation allowed) and is serving subpoenas by phone. (Courts are closed for 30 days and Sheriff will serve notices as cases are rescheduled.)

• Sheriff performing concealed carry recertifications by appointment and using a drive-up method to limit direct contact.

• Library using similar drive-thru arrangement to continue the delivery of library materials to patrons.

• Local Emergency Manager, Robbie Smith, has contacted all five municipalities and is reporting to State Emergency Management on declarations of States of Emergency.

Woodard said, “I’m sure we are performing the same tasks as you- trying to keep essential services available to the public.  Obviously, the demand push for DSS services will increase so we will be trying to keep staff secluded in advance of that push.  As far as the Health Department, their requirement is local monitoring and all staff will be diverted to that task (in some form or another) if the number of positive cases locally grows.

“Other than what we can control locally by common sense approaches, we are pretty much on a watch and wait status with the State and Federal governments.  We read about school closings, restaurant closings, etc. from the media before we received any communications from State officials.  I’m sure it will be the same for whatever actions the Federal government takes in regards to the economic crisis.”

Schools

Governor Roy Cooper announced that schools will remain closed until at least May 15. The following is a plan from Dale Ellis, superintendent of Montgomery County Schools regarding MCS’ ongoing plan.

 Curriculum and Instruction

We plan to continue making instructional packets as of right now for grades K-2. Toshiba has worked with us to make the packets affordably. We will continue to provide the packets in two-week increments for our youngest students. We are working to move grades 3-5 online along with grades 6-12. We are currently working on laptop distribution protocols to make sure everyone has what they need. Flexibility will continue to be key as we work on these processes. The goal is to mitigate learning loss to the extent possible. The introduction of new concepts will have to wait but our teachers are doing everything they can to reinforce learning as best they can given the current circumstances.

Personnel

As of now, we still have Thursday and Friday scheduled as a required workdays. It appears that the number of cases continues to rise, so bringing our staff together is a concern. We are currently working on social distancing protocols so that when staff are together in the same building, they will not closely interact with one another. Teaching is a collaborative profession, so this will be hard for teachers. We cannot work from home for the next two months, so we are working on a rotational schedule for our staff. However, given the rise of cases, it may make sense to work from home for the next two weeks in case there is a sharp increase in cases in Montgomery County. I think the next two weeks will be key in understanding what the impact of the disease will be on our county.  We will continue to refine our personnel plan and communicate it to our staff.

 The biggest concern regarding personnel is hourly employees. We have been told that salaried employees will be paid and we have gotten mixed messages on how to handle employees who work hourly. We are continuing to work on solutions to this situation. No clear guidance from the state has hurt our ability to find a solution for this. We are currently asking a lot of questions and reaching out to other districts to see what they are doing in regard to these employees.

Child Nutrition

We will continue our feeding program throughout the closure. We have established community sites and the program appears to be performing well and getting the food into the hands of our kids. We were up to over 1,800 meals yesterday when accounting for lunches and breakfasts. We have also partnered with CIS to carry food bags out into the community on the bus routes on Wednesdays and Fridays. We are continuing to monitor levels and adjust the community feeding sites to the extent possible to meet the demand. We owe a special thanks to those employees who have been working hard to make sure our kids get fed.  Our child nutrition staff has been awesome!