Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson gives coronavirus update at City Service Center

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UPDATE (4:45 P.M.): Col. Hoffman said there would be a town hall meeting at Fort Benning tonight regarding school closures on base.

UPDATE (4:43 P.M.): “We do not have a definitive number of tests, tests that have individually been done,” for potential coronavirus patients. There is not a current, specific number of tests that have been performed locally at this time.

UPDATE (4:41 P.M.): Dr. Townsend addressed questions on the limited availability of test kits, but re-emphasized that patients must meet specific criteria to be tested for coronavirus locally.

She expects there to be an increase in testing as labs increase production of kits and private labs take more samples in for testing.

Townsend says more tests will be done, and will continue to be done.

UPDATE (4:39 P.M.): St. Francis CEO Melody Trimble says that St. Francis is limiting visitors and they are screening visitors and patients, but so far there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The hospital will continue to follow CDC guidelines. The St. Francis team stands ready, Trimble said.

Visitation and entrances have been limited at the hospital in the meantime.

Online resources are available for St. Francis patients and other concerned members of the community.

UPDATE (4:36 P.M.): “The hospital is just really not someplace you want to visit right now if you are well,” said Hill.

Hill encourages everyone to stay supportive of hospitals during this time.

UPDATE (4:34 P.M.): Scott Hill of Piedmont Columbus Regional said that they are working to ensure good local communication among hospitals and that a command center is in place for response to the virus.

Piedmont Columbus is also functioning as a command center for other hospitals in their system to coordinate virus response and preparedness.

UPDATE (4:32 P.M.): Fort Benning’s Col. Melissa Hoffman from Martin Army Hospital confirmed that there are still no cases of coronavirus confirmed at Fort Benning. Tri-care beneficiaries are encouraged to use a nurse advice line to ask about how to proceed if they believe they are infected with coronavirus.

Officials say strict screening processes are in place already.

UPDATE (4:30 P.M.): Hugley says the city knows what they will do if something should happen, they will continue to provide services to residents. This includes garbage collection and emergency services.

“The citizens of Columbus will continue to receive the services they are accustomed to with little interruption,” Hugley said.

UPDATE (4:28 P.M.): Hugley says that at department heads’ discretion, with the exception of some essential employees, staff are allowed to work from home to ensure children and other family members are cared for.

The department heads are expected to submit contingency plans to ensure that services remain open and functional.

UPDATE (4:26 P.M.): “During this difficult time…we are taking action regarding operations to ensure limited interruptions of the services that our citizens count on,” said City Manager Isaiah Hugley.

Out of state travel has been limited for employees unless absolutely necessary or critical. Interstate travel has also been limited for this effort.

Work from home, alternate work schedule flexibility is being tested by city employees during this time.

UPDATE (4:23 P.M.): MCSD employees will continue to receive paychecks during this period, according to Lewis.

Campuses will remain closed to the public but teachers will have some office hours to remain in contact with parents and students.

Lewis says Spectrum will provide 60 days of free service to MCSD students and parents to make use of digital resources for learning available during this time.

For more information on programs and updates, parents can call 706-748-2000.

UPDATE (4:20 P.M.): Schools in the Muscogee County School District will remain closed through April 6, including spring break, according to superintendent David Lewis.

The MCSD feeding program is available Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. over the next two weeks to all students in the community, whether or not they are in MCSD schools.

Buses will also be used to distribute food by volunteers, in addition to set locations at MCSD schools.

UPDATE (4:19 P.M.): Townsend says a drive-through testing location will open in Columbus in the next few days. She says we are likely to have positive test cases as testing becomes more available.

UPDATE (4:18 P.M.): There still isn’t a specific treatment for COVID-19. Some symptoms of the flu or common cold crossover with symptoms of coronavirus, so contact health workers before going to a health facility.

The community still has a gap as far as testing and sample collection go, but the efforts are being made to improve this.

However, private labs are not doing collections, just receiving samples from primary physicians and other health providers to test samples taken from patients.

The criteria for sample kits being taken are based on CDC guidelines and pre-screening questions.

Not everyone can be tested because there are not enough test kits available, according to Townsend.

She asks that if you’re sick and symptoms are not serious, remain home and self-quarantine, and make sure to keep social distance and disinfect your mobile devices and other items you’re in regular contact with.

Townsend says there is a coronavirus hotline to call at 1-855-962-0955. You will have to leave a message on it, as it is a recorded line, but health officials will get in contact with you within 24 hours.

UPDATE (4:15 P.M.): District Health Director Dr. Beverly Townsend said to continue following CDC and Department of Public Health guidelines.

Right now as we are in a pandemic, it is important to remain calm.

Townsend says the city does not have the capacity to test everyone for coronavirus, and asks that if you know you’ve come in contact with someone who tested positive, self-quarantine for 14 days.

If you don’t develop symptoms after 14 days, you can be cleared of having the infection.

If you develop shortness of breath, fever, or other more severe symptoms, let someone know so you can be evaluated, but call ahead before showing up at urgent care centers, emergency rooms, or other health facilities to avoid spreading the infection.

If you call, health officials can give directions on how to proceed.

“We want to be able to help you, we have a lot of guides and directions to help,” Townsend said.

UPDATE (4:10 P.M.): Availability of testing kits for coronavirus/COVID-19 continues to be discussed.

Currently, the city has no plans to enforce the closure of private businesses, but does urge local businesses to follow CDC guidelines to promote safety during this time.

Social distancing remains a priority to prevent infection and spread of the virus, as well as staying vigilant and washing your hands regularly.

The Mayor says that if you believe you have symptoms of the coronavirus, don’t drive to the Emergency Room, but call your doctor or call the Department of Public Health to see if you can get a test performed.

Most importantly, the Mayor says not to believe the rumors you may see online, be cautious to make sure a story comes from a legitimate media outlet.

UPDATE (4:05 P.M.): Leaders from local hospitals and health organizations, and public safety officials are all in contact.

Public facilities that draw crowds have all be temporarily closed down and public events suspended to combat the spread of coronavirus locally.

Provisions are in place from government officials to ensure services remain functioning, such as the Muscogee County Jail and other public services.

UPDATE (4:02 P.M.): City leadership is staying in touch with state and health organizations and officials to continue to keep a close watch on how the coronavirus is spreading and control misinformation.

Henderson says his goal is to make sure the information going out to the public is as accurate as possible.

UPDATE (4 P.M.): “We plan to face these challenges together,” said Mayor Skip Henderson.

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Columbus area or at Fort Benning.

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson is expected to give a live press conference at 4 p.m. on coronavirus updates in the city.

Henderson will be joined by Dr. Beverly Townsend, the District Health Director of the Department of Community Health.

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