COVID-19: Cullman community response

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

CULLMAN, Ala. – A local group met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Cullman community response to the COVID-19.

Representatives of the hospital, 911, emergency management, emergency medical services, law enforcement, public health, nursing homes, fire departments, legislative delegation, local government leaders, education and others participated in the conference call to discuss the next steps to protect the public, safeguard service providers and discuss how to better communicate with everyone.

Team members met by conference call with Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs welcoming the group and encouraging a team approach.

Cullman Fire Chief Brian Bradberry explained the conference call format was to honor the social distancing guidelines of no more than 10 people in a gathering. Bradberry asked each agency to report its actions to reduce exposure, summarize its preparations and share its concerns.

Alabama had 36 confirmed cases late Tuesday with 20 of those in Jefferson County. There are still no confirmed cases in Cullman, but health professionals speculate it is simply a matter of time before a case is confirmed.

Committee members agreed to established a unified platform (website) managed by the IT departments of Cullman County and the City of Cullman for all government agencies, health care providers and emergency services to disseminate information to the public.

Judy Smith, administrator of the Northern District of the Alabama Department of Public Health, praised the local actions of the hospital, local governments and agencies for their efforts restricting public gatherings, postponing events and activities, promoting hand washing and encouraging sick people to stay home.

Limited tests for COVID-19 are available in Alabama through public sources, according to Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman. He provided a state update and said the Alabama Legislature can provide further financial assistance as soon as the federal government releases guidelines. He told Cullman agencies to ask him for what they need and he will seek assistance.

Smith said emphasis needs to be placed on testing the right people—those with the COVID-19 symptoms. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine or treatment available for patients with COVID-19. People with symptoms are told to go home and self-medicate. Testing is not recommended on a mass scale at this time. Only those with true distress or difficulty breathing need hospital attention.  Those who suspect they have symptoms are encouraged to speak with their doctors or call ahead rather than just showing up at a medical facility, which probably only increases the risk of exposure. Local testing of patients requires a doctor to complete an online form.

Some private testing laboratory sites have sprung up around the state, but there are no announced private testing sites in Cullman to date.

Cullman Regional spokesperson Lindsey Dossey said the hospital call-in hot line (256-735-5530) operates from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily to answer questions, address concerns, ease fears and share information with callers. The hospital, like nursing homes and most government entities, limits or restricts visitation or public interaction.

Dr. William Smith, chief medical officer at Cullman Regional, said seven people were tested Monday, eight Tuesday bringing the Cullman County total to 35.

Hanceville, Cullman, Good Hope and Cullman County have curtailed or suspended many operations. Essential services continue to operate and provisions are in place to keep law enforcement, full-time and volunteer fire departments, ambulance and other emergency services available. Meals on Wheels and CARTS will continue to operate, but with a focus on limiting exposure to both clients and providers.

Cullman County EMA Director Phyllis Little noted Cullman County signed an Emergency Declaration and has closed county offices from March 18 to April 6.  Little suggested the combined city/county website as a landing point for all local agencies and groups. Each agency can maintain its own site, but posting all info from government/provider sources to one site would be extremely beneficial.

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette and Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson dismissed students until April 6. Students can contact city or county school systems for assistance with meals.

All of the medical experts stressed washing hands, cleaning surfaces with soap and water, limiting social interaction and the other guidelines proposed by the CDC, national, state and local agencies.

Dr. Scott Warner, medical director for Cullman EMS/Cullman Fire Rescue, said a “pandemic plan” has been in place locally since 2009. He said it allows for providers to deviate from the norm in addressing situations and treatment for diseases like COVID-19. He said doing nothing would lead to the number of infected people doubling every five days.

He said hand washing, limiting social contact and staying home when sick are the best options to reduce the spread of the disease. Warner said he could not overstress the important of those precautions.