Wise County reports first confirmed COVID-19 case

Mike Still • Apr 4, 2020 at 5:15 PM

APPALACHIA — State health officials confirmed Wise County’s first COVID-19 case Saturday, after a town official posted the patient’s place of residence.

LENOWISCO Health District Director Dr. Sue Cantrell said the patient, a male in his 70s, has been hospitalized.

“Due to patient privacy, no further information about the patient will be disclosed by (the Virginia Department of Health),” Cantrell said.

The case marks the third confirmed case in the district since two weeks ago, when two Lee County residents tested positive for the disease.

Appalachia Town Manager and Wise County District 1 Supervisor Fred A. Luntsford Jr. posted the patient’s place of residence on the town’s official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/appalachiatownhall) Saturday.

“I have been made aware that some disagree with the fact that I identified the location where the Appalachia resident who has tested positive for COVID-19 lives,” Luntsford wrote in a second post Saturday. “I feel it is my responsibility as town manager to make all citizens aware with as much information as I can without breaking any laws.

“I will continue to share information as I can and without violating any privacy laws. As of now the health department is in charge of the situation.”

Luntsford did not respond to a message from the Times News regarding the posts.

Cantrell said the risk of exposure for persons “is NOT determined by the numbers and locations of cases or the details of investigations.”

Cantrell said people’s behavior determines the exposure risk for COVID-19.

“Regardless of the presence or absence of cases near you, it is critically important for your well-being to stay home as much as possible,” Cantrell said, “and practice good personal precautions, including hygiene and distance.”

Appalachia Deputy Fire Chief and Town Council member Travis Anderson posted a video on the fire department’s official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/afdcompany3) that did not give identifying details about the patient. He said that two department members did respond Friday to a non-COVID-19 call and took the patient to an unspecified hospital emergency room.

The patient did not show symptoms of the disease at that time, Anderson said.

Two hospitals in Wise County and Norton provide ER services: Ballad Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap and Ballad Norton Community Hospital. Ballad designated Lonesome Pine as a COVID-19 treatment facility about a week ago, with other surgical and OB-GYN services moved to Norton.

Anderson said he got a call around 10:42 p.m. from the state Department of Health that the patient had tested positive for COVID-19 and was being hospitalized. The two department members who handled the call have been tested and put on home quarantine for 14 days, he said in Saturday’s video clip.

Fire and rescue personnel are helping the Health Department trace patient contacts, Anderson said.

Cantrell said contact tracing is a part of handling any reported case of communicable diseases, including COVID-19, to assess exposure risk and take measures to protect public health for individuals and the community.

“That’s the work we do every day,” Cantrell said. “It’s a mistake to assume your risk of exposure to COVID-19 is higher or lower merely because of where you are. We all should assume that COVID-19 is everywhere in Virginia and protect ourselves accordingly.”

Cantrell said people need to take precautions which the Department of Health and state officials have been stressing since Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency across Virginia:

— Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

— Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing

— Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

— Stay home when you are sick

— Avoid contact with sick people

— If you are experiencing symptoms, call your doctor

— Avoid close contact with crowds of any size, and avoid any crowd of 10 or more

— Stay home as much as possible, except for essential travel

“There is no absolutely safe place,” Cantrell said. “There is only safe behavior."

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