Being prepared: Local agencies prepare for potential coronavirus response in Southern Oklahoma

Drew Butler

The Illness known as 2019-nCoV, more frequently known as coronavirus has been rapidly traveling across the globe. According to USA TODAY as of Wednesday afternoon, 81,280 cases of the highly infectious illness have been confirmed with 2,770 confirmed deaths. The United States has had 57 test positive including 40 American passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more cases of person-to-person spread will likely be occurring in the United States as coronavirus continues to make its way around the world. This could lead to schools, workplaces, churches and other public places seeing mass absenteeism. The CDC also pointed out that as of this time there is no vaccine to protect against coronavirus and no medications approved to treat it.

Mendy Spohn, regional administrative director for the Carter County Health Department, said right now the Oklahoma State Health Department is monitoring incoming travelers who might have been infected, and localized agencies are working behind the scenes to get prepared for a potential outbreak.

“As public health responders we are staying updated with our federal partners with the CDC, and the state health department is hosting stakeholder conversations with planning partners that include others outside the health sector such as the school sector and business and commerce sector,” Spohn said. “There’s actually going to be a conference call on Friday where we will all come together. So right now we’re in a very big ramp up of information sharing and getting in touch with our contacts and making sure we have all the correct information.”

Spohn, who is responsible for nine counties in Southern Oklahoma, said she and her local emergency planners are currently putting a communication plan together for the region.

“What we will be doing from a local perspective is trying to meet with local stakeholders like our local emergency managers, school groups and businesses,” Spohn said. “Most counties have an emergency planning group that meets regularly so we’ll probably start to talk about what’s the current information and what’s factual information. We already have pandemic plans in place for flu, so a lot of what the community has been asking for is a sit down to talk about those plans and see what needs to be changed for the upcoming current events.”

Spohn said it never hurts to talk about all the “what if’s” and begin planning for them. She also noted it’s always important for individuals to be able to be able to take care of themselves inside their own homes for an extended period of time.

“The CDC has some excellent reference materials online that we are also referencing and putting into a guideline for our community,” Spohn said. “One of those is an individual planner that talks about the things you need to think about if you’re asked to isolate in your home for an extended period of time. So if someone is worried about or interested in learning more, that’s a great place to go to get good, factual information.”