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Area leaders update county on COVID-19, preparations

Editor's Note: This story was current as of Friday, March 27. On Monday, March 30, an emergency city council meeting was called in order to approve a shelter-in-place order which is set to be in effect from 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, March 31 until 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 14.

County leaders met Friday and hosted a livestream informing the community of the threat of COVID-19 and the steps the entities have taken and will continue to monitor in order to prevent the spread.

Joining the meeting were Graham Regional Medical Center CEO Shane Kernell, Young County Health Authority Dr. Pat Martin, Graham Mayor Neal Blanton, Young County Judge John Bullock and Graham City Manager Brandon Anderson. Blanton started the meeting by speaking about the unity which has been on display through the community during this pandemic.

“We are at a difficult time in the history of our communities and it is inspiring to see all our communities pull together to fight this disease,” Blanton said. “Our schools have worked hard to ensure that our children are engaged in studies and that students who depend on the school meal programs are still getting food even when school is not in session. Our churches have jumped in to provide needed support with supplies, food and moral support. Our Meals on Wheels continues to deliver food safely to our senior citizens and those who cannot get out. Our businesses have worked hard to online orders, delivery and takeout and seen that needed commodities like groceries are available every day.”

Blanton said the community should be setting the example as it is and not panicking in the face of this pandemic. Bullock followed Blanton and said the county has been fortunate to have only one case so far and spoke about the orders laid down by the entities which are advisories now, but can be made mandatory with violations being prosecuted.

“My point is to impress on every Young County citizen the danger we are in and will be for weeks, if not months and those precautionary measures are effective,” Bullock said. “The public’s actions will greatly affect the duration of this crisis. If there are reports of blatant non-compliance, we will be forced to make advisories mandatory orders and enforce them to get the compliance necessary. Let’s all do our part in this and get back to a much less stressful living.”

Bullock said the courthouse was closed as of Monday, March 30 and asked that all of those in the county respect the six-foot distancing, limit their travel, avoid groups and follow the hygiene recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anderson said one thing he wanted addressed was the area is not enforcing a shelter-in-place directive at this time.

“The county and the city both have the ability to order a shelter in place, however, at this time with the case that we have, we hope that impresses enough upon the public that we would do that on our own,” Anderson said. “We need to stay within our family groups. (...) We talked before we went on air and we talked about the importance of staying within your family groups and get out on your own, maybe go on a bear hunt, which has been talked about here locally. Make up some kind of activity for your family to do, but for the next week, two weeks, whatever this ends up being, it is really important that if you love your family and everyone else loves everyone else’s family, that it is important for our parents, our parents, parents at this time because they are susceptible. We are learning a lot about this virus as we go, so we are not ordering that at this time, both entities have that ability, however, we would hope you would see the importance of that enough and do it on your own.”

Martin gave an update on the one individual who tested positive for COVID-19 in the community and said they are at home and doing well as of Friday. Martin said he is checking on the patient on a daily basis and added all of those who came in contact with the individual have been contacted.

“We have tracked down all contacts of that individual,” Martin said. “All contacts have been tested and they all tested negative which is really good. It is really important to remember for those people who have had contact with this individual and you have been quarantined, you are quarantined for two weeks. It’s not that we get a negative test and you can be out of your quarantine, your quarantine is from the last day you contacted this individual (to) two weeks from that day you need to be quarantined. It’s a very dangerous virus and the initial test can be negative and you can test positive several days later, so if you develop any kind of respiratory symptoms you need to be retested.”

Martin said 20-40% of those of contract COVID-19 require hospitalization and in a community like Graham that could overrun the hospital and care centers.

“If you can imagine in Graham, Texas, if say 3,000 people in Young County come down with COVID-19 in one month, we would expect 1,200 people to require hospitalization,” Martin said. “We would expect up to 20% of those people to require ICU care. If we are hit that hard with this illness, Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Dallas, are all going to be hit that hard (...) and there will not be places to transfer our critically ill patients. We will be managing them here in our own local hospitals. There are a limited number of ventilators in the country and there’s a limited number of ventilators in Graham and the doctors here would really hate to have to decide who qualifies for a ventilator and who doesn’t. And those are decisions that doctors in New York right now are actually having to make.”

One way to help slow down the spread is to flatten the curve, which according to Martin, represents how fast the illness spreads. He said the goal right now is to slow the spread as much as possible.

“We know for sure that people here in Graham, here in Olney, here in Young County are going to get this illness, there is no question about that,” Martin said. “What we want to do is slow down the rate that people get infected. If we have large numbers of people that get infected all at one time, then that curve is going to be very rapid and it’s going to be very hard to take care of those people. It is going to be very hard to get the medicines that we use to take care of those people and it is going to be very hard to get IV fluid, just basic things that they need.”

Kernell said GRMC has been in communication with all the medical facilities throughout the county and working with them to gather information and practices in order to coordinate efforts in the most effective way possible. He said the hospital is ready in case of an emergency, but hopes the community will head the warning of the area leaders in the hopes of flattening the curve.

“We have taken some spare room in our hospital, what used to be the women’s center, and we’ve prepared that unit to be a surge COVID-19 facility, so it is fully stocked, it is prepared, we have prepared for staff to staff it and we are ready for a worse case scenario that we can handle here in Graham,” Kernell said. “You know, ventilators are a rate limiter. We have two that are at our hospital. We have a 24/7 respiratory therapy department that can help operate the ventilators. We have got anesthesia 24/7 and a staff of physicians, so we are prepared as best as we can. The idea though is to flatten the curve, so we can handle as many patients as we can over a longer period of time instead of getting hit all at once.”

Anderson said he hopes when things slow down that there is some way the community can thank the first responders and medical professionals who have stepped up during this time. Blanton said he hopes people will listen to the medical professionals in the community and thanks those who have stepped around the county.

“We are so grateful for all of our first responders and the fact that they put their lives on the line every day and we are thankful for citizens who come together in times like these to build us up, not tear us down,” Blanton said. “I encourage each and every one of you to spread the word far and near to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash your hands and be kind to people. Follow city of Graham’s Facebook page for updates as well as Young County. God bless each of you and God bless our state and country.”

The Graham Leader

620 Oak Street
P.O. Box 600
Graham, Texas 76450
Phone: (940) 549-7800
Fax: (940) 228-0589