From empty store shelves to the shuttering of libraries, playgrounds, movie theaters, churches and some area businesses, concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, have prompted unprecedented changes to everyday life here in Hendersonville and Sumner County.
As of Wednesday morning, 73 people in 10 counties across the state have tested positive for the virus, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Davidson County had the largest number of cases with 42 while Williamson County had 21.
Although there have been no confirmed cases yet in Sumner County, officials admit it’s only a matter of time before Sumner joins the ranks of so many other communities across the country.
President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency on Friday, March 13. The announcement came one day after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an emergency declaration allowing the state to bring in more federal funding to respond to the outbreak.
Nashville declared a public health emergency on Sunday and ordered bars closed and restaurants to limit capacity.
Gallatin city officials proactively claimed a state of emergency there on Tuesday, giving Mayor Paige Brown emergency powers should an outbreak occur.
Nationwide, there were 4,226 COVID-19 cases in 49 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands as of Tuesday, according to the CDC. The total number of deaths was 75.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has encouraged everyone to clean their hands often, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, avoid face contact with unwashed hands, avoid contact with people who are sick and put distance between yourself and others in areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
Anyone who is sick should stay home, cover coughs and sneezes, wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and wear a facemask when around other people.
County, city officials respond to virus
Hendersonville officials issued a statement on Friday stating the temporary closure of two area playgrounds – Mary’s Magical Place and Kids Kingdom - as well as the postponement of city court for two weeks. As of Tuesday, Hendersonville City Hall remained open but residents were encouraged to visit city buildings sparingly and do business by phone or email as much as possible.
“Rest assured, we will do everything to remain focused on the situation while providing services to taxpayers,” said Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary. “Emergency services will change virtually none. Non-emergency services will be scaled back reasonably.”
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt said Tuesday that county offices remain open, but he asked the public to stay away if they are sick. Employees have also been encouraged to keep their distance from others and take precautions like sanitizing and disinfecting their offices.
“This has put us in uncharted territory,” Holt said. “We want to keep our employees safe, but we’re trying to balance that with making sure services are provided.”
Beginning Wednesday, anyone visiting the Sumner County Administration Building in Gallatin must enter and exit through the entrance facing Tulip Poplar Drive. Each person will have their temperature checked by medical personnel and will not be allowed to enter if they have a fever. Employees will be screened as well
The Sumner County Commission is still scheduled to meet on Monday, March 23 although some commissioners have requested to teleconference into the meeting, Holt added. All certificates of recognition have been removed from the agenda.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has said that state, county and municipal courts will remain open, but is limiting in-person court proceedings until March 31. Those scheduled for general sessions court will need to check their cases online at www.sumnercourts.com or call the court clerk’s office at (615) 452-4367.
Sumner County Schools, which is currently on Spring Break, will remain closed until April 1.
Vol State Community College has cancelled classes and campus events for all locations for an extended spring break that will last until March 21. All classes will go to an online-only format starting March 23 for the rest of the semester. Graduation is now scheduled for May 16.
Welch College extended its spring break by two days and will move all of its classes online beginning March 25.
Number of those tested unknown
It’s not known how many people have been tested for the virus in Sumner County. Requests from this newspaper to the Sumner County Health Department for information about the local impact of the virus have been referred to the Tennessee Department of Health. The department posts daily at 2 p.m. on its website the number of confirmed cases across the state by county of residence.
The website lists the number of cases confirmed by the Tennessee Public Health Laboratory (22 to date) as well as the number of cases confirmed by commercial and private labs (51 to date). It also lists the number of tests completed at state labs (352) but does not list how many have been completed by commercial or private labs.
“We do not have the number of tests completed for private labs,” said Tennessee Department of Health Spokesperson Bill Christian.
When asked how many people have been tested for COVID-19 in Sumner County, where these people are being tested, and what the procedure is for being tested, Christian emailed back the following response:
“People who feel sick should contact their medical provider for a clinical assessment. If the provider completes an assessment and suspects coronavirus, they may contact the health department to discuss testing or use commercial lab testing as available. When a positive case is identified we will work directly with the patient and local jurisdictions to inform those at risk or those to which the information is relevant.”
TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center has been working diligently to ensure it’s prepared for potential patients who may test positive for COVID-19, according to Spokesperson Rachel Lassiter.
“The hospital is also taking proactive steps to protect patients, staff and the community,” she said. “This includes regular communications with local and state public health officials, reinforcing infection prevention policies with guidance from the CDC, ensuring the hospital has appropriate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and implementing screening protocols at all hospital entrances as a measure to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.”
The hospital will implement a no visitors policy at all of the TriStar Hendersonville campuses, including the TriStar Portland ER, TriStar Women’s Imaging and the Outpatient Center at TriStar Hendersonville, beginning March 19.
The new policy will allow one dedicated parent or caregiver for pediatric patients, one dedicated birthing or care partner for labor and delivery patients, and one dedicated caregiver for outpatient surgery and/or testing.
Lassiter said that any additional exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Those who think they have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop mild symptoms such as fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), cough or difficulty breathing, are urged to call their healthcare provider for medical advice or call Ask-a-Nurse at (615) 514-0757 or the Tennessee Department of Health COVID-19 hotline at (877) 857-2945.
Those with worsening or severe symptoms - such as persistent pain, pressure in the chest or trouble breathing - should contact their healthcare provider or emergency room and seek care immediately, according to Lassiter.