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story.lead_photo.caption This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19. ( NIAID-RML via AP )

Now that coronavirus is present in Pope County, the county and Russellville leaders have taken steps to attempt to curb the outbreak with measures such as closing the local airport to visitors, restricting access to government buildings, suspending district court activity and encouraging citizens to self-quarantine.

"As the progression of the COVID-19 virus continues, it is imperative that we as city and county leaders continue to provide factual information, as opposed to suspected or presumptive information," Ben Cross, county judge of Pope County, and Russellville Mayor Richard Harris said in a joint statement issued Thursday.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Both said the news of the first confirmed case in the county is concerning and warrants action.

But "this information does not warrant panic in our community," the statement said. "It is important that citizens stay home if you are sick. For those that are not exhibiting signs of any illness, it is important that you restrict unnecessary movement throughout our community and maintain social distancing."

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, can cause respiratory problems, fever, cough or shortness of breath. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, severe acute respiratory syndrome and death. The state went from one reported case to 100 in 10 days as of Friday and infections continue to spread.

"We have a great partner in Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center, and they have opened up an off-site medical triage clinic, on West Main Street in Russellville, for the exclusive purpose of covid-19 screening," Cross said.

"The initial screening involves testing for influenza, strep, and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]," Cross said. "If a patient tests negative for those conditions, then they are classified as presumptive and given appropriate testing."

Saint Mary's has closed common areas and restricted access to the facility. The limited entry points are staffed with medical personnel to screen visitors, patients, vendors and all nonemployees who enter the building.

Wristbands are required for every visitor who is granted access. Employees also have limited entry points for screening purposes.

"These increased safety measures do not mean that you cannot access the hospital or your providers," the hospital said in a prepared release. "Please seek medical care as needed. And if you are concerned you may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call your provider in advance of going to his or her office. Of course, if you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the emergency room."

Cross said the county's supply of personal protective equipment for first responders remains limited, but additional resources have been requested from the state's Division of Emergency Management.

Both Cross and Harris said they expect more cases to be confirmed in the county.

"But we should not panic and [should] remain vigilant in all that we do," Harris said.

"As medical testing results shorten their turnaround times in the confirmative testing process, we will all see what could be perceived as a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases," Cross said. "However, this is to be expected, and does not necessarily reflect anything other than what was already diagnosed from a medical professional. Essentially, those individuals going from a presumptive case to a confirmed case does not change the medical platform of treatment and recommendations."

Walk-in traffic to county government buildings is restricted, but employees continue to report to work, "business as usual," Cross said.

"I anticipate utilizing the first-floor courtroom for all necessary judicial 'in person' proceedings," Cross said. "We will be closing the doors between the old and new sections of the courthouse and putting up barriers in the stairwells to inhibit foot traffic from the public during those times where the courtroom is being used."

The Pope County Quorum Court passed a resolution last week allowing county employees who are placed in quarantine by a physician or their elected official to continue to be paid. The time will not be taken out of the employee's normally accrued leave bank.

Employees with school-aged children or who are responsible for caring for a family member who has been diagnosed with the virus can stay home without being subject to attendance discipline policies.

However, those employees must use any accrued paid time off such as sick leave, vacation time or comp time. Once the paid time off has been exhausted, the employee is responsible for repayment of county-provided benefits such as health insurance premiums and other elected withholdings.

The Russellville City Hall is closed to the public, but city employees are still on site to answer calls and perform daily tasks.

The city's animal shelter as well as the community center and aquatic center are closed to the public until further notice. All sponsored and sports events scheduled within the Russellville parks system have been canceled.

The Russellville Regional Airport announced Friday that its lobby will be closed to the public beginning today. Those meeting incoming aircraft should use the covered patio area.

The Pope County District Court will continue to perform essential functions, but the court clerk's office is closed to the public and court proceedings are temporarily suspended.

"Continue to pray for family friends, and our community. Also pray for those whose jobs or businesses are at risk due to the constraints put on them due to the virus," Harris said. "There is an emotional strain on many in our community and we need to be sensitive to their situation and look for ways in which we can help."

SundayMonday on 03/23/2020

Print Headline: Russellville, county halt court, restrict spaces after 1st case

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