Wayne County and Richmond government and health officials strengthened their pleas Friday night for area residents to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus as Reid Health sees an increase in respiratory illnesses.

Residents are directed to cease all non-essential gatherings of people, including social gatherings and funerals, for the time being.

Officials also urge local employers to reduce their in-person workforce by 30 percent or more, to reduce the transmission rate. They ask for as many employees to work at home as possible, especially those who are particularly susceptible to the virus.

An increase in social distancing of six feet or more between co-workers and customers is also emphasized in all locations.

Some are hesitant to avoid social interactions because they feel fine, but the added challenge of coronavirus is that people don’t know they’re passing it on because they are asymptomatic for up to five days before getting sick, according to Craig Kinyon, president and CEO of Reid Health.

Wayne County Health Department Director Christine Stinson said “gut-punch decisions” are having to be made, and in her 20-plus years of public health, she has never had to be part of making those types of decisions.

The resolution from county commissioners and Richmond Mayor Dave Snow also reinforces the closures earlier announced by the Wayne County Health Department. On Thursday, hair and nail salons, barber shops, gyms, fitness centers and tattoo parlors were told to cease operations until notified they can reopen.

Health and government officials will continue to monitor the emergency. Officials said they didn’t want to issue more restrictive directives, but they may be forthcoming if people don’t follow the current ones and the illness gets worse in the community.

Kinyon said they want to slow down interactions and reduce exposures because they need to reduce the potential of a surge of critically ill patients. Supplies of protective gear for local health care professionals and first responders such as masks and gloves are currently adequate, as well as ventilators, but Reid is at risk of running out if more patients are seen.

Stinson said local officials have been trying to access the federal government strategic reserve of medical supplies, and were prepared to gather a large shipment with a forklift if needed, but all the county could get fit in the bed of a truck.

So far, Reid has 100 test kits for COVID-19 and doesn’t know when more will come. They must be conserved for the highest risk patients. The state’s ability to run tests is limited as well, so they are rationed, and will get a new one when one is used.

Kinyon said today’s test kits are not as reliable as they could be, and they hopefully will be improved soon. Those coming back positive probably are, but those showing negative might or might not be.

Stinson urged residents to check their temperatures daily, and anyone who is sick should stay home. If they believe they might have coronavirus, they are urged to self-quarantine.

Wayne County Health Officer Dr. David Jetmore said that younger people cannot be cavalier about it. The United States is seeing a different group of patients than China did, who were mainly seniors. Jetmore said U.S. medical professionals are seeing younger people in their 20s to 50s now contracting the disease, and those who become infected will spread it through society.

Health experts also urge residents to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and avoid frequently touched surfaces that can carry the germs for much longer periods of time than other illnesses.

Dr. Thomas Huth said it is unusual at this time of year to see as much respiratory illness as Reid is seeing.

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