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NEWLAND — COVID 19, also referred to as the coronavirus, has caused a pandemic stretching from China to the United States.

While there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Avery County as of March 17, emergency management is taking the necessary precautions to effectively respond to the virus and to educate the public on how to avoid contracting and spreading the contagion. 

According to Avery County Fire Marshal Paul Buchanan, emergency services has partnered with community stakeholders such as Lees-McRae College, Life Care Center of Banner Elk, Cannon Memorial Hospital and others in order to properly plan and prepare for potential coronavirus cases locally. 

"All of our hazard plans are built even for these invisible foes. We've got a really multi-phased emergency operations plan. Even though we haven't dealt with COVID 19, we treat it similar to a flood event, where we stand up our emergency operation center and everyone falls under that same umbrella. Even though it's a new event, it goes [under] our previous training," Buchanan said. 

Emergency Management's emergency operations plan will go into effect if Avery decides to declare a county state of emergency. If the county was to make such a decision, Buchanan says that Avery would then be included in the state's command structure, and emergency management would then oversee everything that goes on within the county.

In the meantime, the various county agencies continue to communicate with one another to ensure that they are on the same page in regard to their collective responses. 

"We have daily briefings. Anything that we have going on is filtered down through the [western part of the state's] emergency management. The health department is having daily briefings, the hospital is having daily briefings and then we all get together, whether by email or phone call," Buchanan said. "There is a lot of good dialogue going on between our local resources." 

According to Buchanan, part of the hospital's contingency plan is to separate patients waiting in the emergency room away from those who may have the virus.

"There are screenings in place; they are asking questions," Buchanan said. "The biggest one is if you suspect that you've been in contact with somebody, then they're going to get you into an isolated room."

Avery County Communications has also implemented procedures to better coordinate between emergency medical services, first responders and employees at the hospital. 

"We have implemented questions in place whenever someone calls 911, like running a fever or showing certain symptoms," Buchanan added. "It kicks 911 into a different line of questioning. EMS is going to protocol up. They're going to put on masks, gloves, [and a little extra] personal protective equipment."

In the meantime, Buchanan recommends that every citizen take the necessary safety and sanitation precautions to avoid spreading germs. Other organizations have dissuaded their employees from traveling to areas that are currently under a state of emergency. 

"Our biggest recommendation is to wash your hands as often as possible. The [next] biggest thing is common sense," Buchanan said. 

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