Marion County commissioners gathered Tuesday morning in an emergency meeting to discuss the county’s multi-faceted effort to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.
Commissioners quickly approved a local state of emergency that was declared Monday. The order gives Commission Chairman Kathy Bryant power to make needed decisions and also is designed to help emergency agencies get equipment in the battle against COVID-19, which has been declared a pandemic. As of Monday afternoon, no cases had been identified in Marion County.
Bryant said the county is working closely with area healthcare providers to provide testing sites as they are needed. But she reiterated that if someone is deemed to need a test, there are protocols to follow. She said it’s imperative for potential patients to contact their medical providers via telephone and they will determine if a test is needed. If so, they will be instructed how to move forward so a swab sample can be taken of their nose and throat. They shouldn’t just walk into a doctor’s office or a clinic, she said.
Bryant said the tests are being conducted by both the Department of Health and private labs. But she said residents also can’t just show up at a lab and ask for a test.
Preston Bowlin, Marion County’s emergency management director, told commissioners that the situation with COVID-19 changes by the minute. For instance, during the hour-and-a-half meeting, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs in the state to close for the next 30 days beginning Tuesday at 5 p.m., he said.
Bowlin said his agency is working closely with healthcare providers, area hospitals and first responders to make sure resources are being shared and used where needed. He said residents may see tents going up in doctor’s office’s parking lots as they prepare for testing, but he said that shouldn’t be a reason to panic. He said they simply are acquiring resources that may be needed if a significant number of cases are reported in Marion County, including more testing kits.
Bowlin also encouraged residents to purchase only the groceries and supplies they’ll need for about a week and not over-buy, as has been happening across the tri-county area and the country with items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, milk and potatoes, to name a few.
“There are supplies in Marion County,” he said.
Marion County Fire Rescue Chief James Banta said his organization is doing what it does best – “preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.” He said he’s working closely with Bowlin and the county’s health department and watching things that are taking place with agencies in other areas, such as in Washington State where 904 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 48 people have died, 29 of which were being cared for at the same nursing home.
Banta said his dispatchers also are screening 911 calls and if patients meet the Coronavirus criteria and are able to come outside, they are asked to do so.
“Open air is a good thing,” he said.
Banta said he’s also having one paramedic initially assess a patient instead of an entire crew going into a home. He said station tours and visits – including those by firefighters’ family members – are being restricted. And plans are being put into place to determine how to move forward if firefighters come down with the virus or an entire fire station might need to be quarantined.
“We want to be proactive and bring calm to the community,” he said.
All five commissioners encouraged area residents to take precautions, watch out for their family members, friends and neighbors – especially those who are elderly and most susceptible to the Coronavirus.
“Everybody’s life has been turned upside down,” Commissioner Michelle Stone said, while also encouraging everyone to maintain a positive attitude and not get caught up in negative comments that frequently are appearing on various social media sites.
Commissioner Carl Zalak said he believes this will become Florida’s time to shine, as the state is used to dealing with emergencies and disasters, such as hurricanes.
“Florida should be the example,” he said. “We can get through a virus and show people how to live and love. Be patient with people and take this time to love your kids and your family.”
Commissioner David Moore also suggested that everyone needs to continue to support local businesses during the crisis, especially those like restaurants that are being the hardest hit and are going to be surviving mostly on curbside takeout service. Bryant agreed and said she plans to take care of the server that frequently waits on her at a local Longhorn Steakhouse.
“We are trying to make sure that we are as prepared as we can be,” Bryant said. “It’s a lot better to over-prepared than under-prepared.”