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Northampton Commissioners declare state of emergency

JACKSON – “These circumstances are circumstances that we’ve never seen before,” said Northampton County Board of Commissioners Chair Charles Tyner at an emergency meeting here Monday afternoon.

The Board convened the meeting to receive updates about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation from the county’s department heads as well as to declare a countywide state of emergency.

County Manager Charles Jackson read the emergency declaration before the vote. It stated the restrictions imposed were “necessary to maintain order and protect public health and safety” and will cover all unincorporated areas of the county.

These restrictions include:

Citizens are strongly urged to conduct all county business by phone or appointment until further notice,

Local government will continue operating but staff will clean and sanitize all facilities as necessary,

Citizens are urged to stay home if possible, and

Law enforcement and other emergency management officials should cooperate in order to enforce implementations of the provision.

The declaration took effect at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 16 and will remain in effect until modified or rescinded.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards motioned to approve the emergency declaration, and Commissioner Geneva Faulkner seconded. It passed with a unanimous vote.

At Monday afternoon’s meeting in Jackson, Northampton Health Department Director Andy Smith presented a comprehensive update to the board of commissioners about the status of the county in dealing with the coronavirus. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Following that business, Northampton Health Department Director Andy Smith presented a comprehensive update to the commissioners about the status of the county in dealing with the coronavirus.

“As of this moment, there are no positive cases in Northampton County,” Smith said.

He noted that they have tested three people so far. One was negative. They were currently waiting on results for the other two.

Smith explained that citizens must meet specific criteria to be tested for COVID-19 due to limited numbers of tests. The first criteria were to be showing symptoms (such as fever, cough, shortness of breath) and to have been in contact with someone else who has tested positive for the disease. The other criteria were to be showing symptoms and have a negative test for influenza with no other likely diagnosis.

“We’ve got more tests coming in,” Smith confirmed, and added that the health department will perform the test, which is usually a nasal swab, for free.

The health director also outlined how to lower your risk of infection. Just walking by or passing by an infected person shows virtually no risk. Being in the same room but being separated by six feet of distance or more is only a low risk for infection.

Your risk increases if you have sustained contact with an infected person within six feet for greater than 10 minutes. And the highest risk is to be in contact with an infected person within your household.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Smith emphasized the importance of hand washing with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. People should also regularly sanitize surfaces multiple times a day.

If other disinfectants aren’t available, Smith said you can use a mixture of five teaspoons of bleach per one quart of water.

“I recommend you making it fresh daily,” he said to ensure the strength of the cleaner.

Smith urged people who are concerned about infection to avoid going to the health department or their health provider so they do not put others at risk of infection.

“If you have those symptoms, call your provider first. Call the health department first,” he explained. “We’ll come to you.”

The number for the Northampton County Health Department is 252-534-5841.

Even though the virus will be mild for most people infected, those who are 65 years and older are at a greater risk for more severe complications from COVID-19.

“We’ve got to work hard to protect our seniors because they mean a lot to us,” Smith continued.

He said many long-term care facilities in the county, such as nursing homes and rest homes, have limited visitors for emergencies only. He did not know how long that would last.

“I just want to reiterate to the citizens, please don’t panic. Is it something to be concerned about? Certainly,” Smith said. “But we’re in a rural environment. We’re blessed to be in a rural county.”

He encouraged people to enjoy the nice weather and let children play in their yards.

“We’re doing fine at this moment. We’re going to deal with it,” Smith concluded.