Officials urge calm and immediate action to slow spread of coronavirus
Five localities from the region declared local emergencies to help manage and coordinate their response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Elected officials from the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Goochland and the city of Richmond announced the declarations at a news conference Friday while urging the public to remain calm, stay informed and follow safety protocols, including frequent handwashing and avoiding crowds.
Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts, said the public should brace for potential disruptions lasting two to three months based on how cases have swelled as COVID-19 has spread in China, South Korea and Italy.
Standing with about 30 elected officials, administrators and first responders at the Richmond Police Training Academy, Avula expressed hope that the “fairly drastic measures” already being taken would limit the outbreak’s severity locally and prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed, as more individuals are tested, cases are confirmed and many patients require treatment.
As of midday Friday, Virginia had 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A case in Hanover was the only one in the region.
Avula applauded the emergency declarations as well as decisions to close schools, cancel large events and practice good hygiene, with regular handwashing and avoiding handshakes and hugs.
“I want you all to hear that these measures are not out of fear, but they are an act of prevention and compassion and preparation — compassion, particularly for the most vulnerable individuals of our community, who are going to feel the brunt of this disease.”
The local emergency declarations were announced a day after Gov. Ralph Northam took similar action for the state. The region had already begun preparing its response to COVID-19 by activating the Central Virginia All Hazards Incident Management Team.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the emergency declarations will allow local governments to act more nimbly in procurement and other areas.
“These declarations will enable us, working in concert with the state government, to act swiftly and responsibly to marshal resources, and it will enable us to work collaboratively to address the needs of our communities as COVID-19 evolves in our region,” he said.
Henrico Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Daniel J. Schmitt acknowledged that COVID-19 has created “an unusual, inconvenient and perhaps frightening time.”
“As local officials, the greatest responsibility we collectively accept is to protect the health, safety and general welfare of our residents,” he said. “This is exactly what we are doing with our emergency declaration and our work as a region.”
Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chair Leslie Haley urged residents to use reputable sources of information to stay on top of the outbreak. Like other localities, Chesterfield is providing updates and information on its website and social media accounts.
“While the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health continue to emphasize the risk is low, there are these higher risk individuals and these special populations that seem to be at this greater risk, and we need to be very mindful of them on a continuing basis,” she said. “These are particularly older adults and people at all ages with severe, underlying health conditions.”
A coordinated, regional response is critical because diseases like the coronavirus aren’t limited by municipal boundaries, Hanover Board of Supervisors Chair Sean Davis said.
“Working together, we will aggressively combat this public health emergency and, in doing so, continue to serve our citizens at the highest level,” he said.
In addition to its emergency declaration, Goochland will consider other precautionary measures, including limiting employee travel, large events and use of county facilities, said Susan F. Lascolette, chair of the Goochland Board of Supervisors.
“Working together as a region, our top priority is to make sure our residents and visitors stay safe and healthy,” she said.
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