Texas County schools closed, healthcare providers announced restrictions and grocery staples flew off the shelves this week as the region prepared for any signs of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
Life in the area changed as the U.S. government declared a national emergency related to the pandemic. Missouri leaders said Tuesday there are eight infected in the state.
There are no reports of positive cases in Texas County, and leaders at several institutions urged citizens to be prepared but not panic.
Clint Schwarz, emergency management director for the county, said planning continues and involves several agencies, including his office, the Texas County Health Department, medical professions and educational leaders.
On Monday night, the Houston School District announced it would close beginning on Wednesday with hopes of reopening on April 6. Other districts — Licking, Raymondville and Success — notified patrons of their closing decisions. Plato adjourned beginning Monday and other districts were already on a spring vacation.
And with the closing of the doors at schools, other challenges pop up, including that its neediest of students have proper food during the shutdown. Dr. Allen Moss, superintendent at Houston, said school leaders will address the problem.
“Contingency planning is continuing and will be based on the best available science as we receive it,” Schwarz said.
At Texas County Memorial Hospital, new restrictions went into effect Tuesday.
In an effort to stop the spread of any potential cases, it is implementing several procedures:
•No one under age 18 is allowed at TCMH facilities unless they are seeking treatment.
•Only one visitor is allowed per hospital patient, per day.
•Only the emergency department entrance will be made available for patients and visitors to access the facility.
•Only the drive-through window will be open at Hutcheson Pharmacy.
Other healthcare providers also issued new protocols for seeing patients and allowing visitors. Topping the prevention list was washing hands with soap and water and avoiding contact with the face and groups of more than 10.
Agencies that help older adults — deemed the most at risk — are in the middle of a balancing act: Trying to maintain services while minimizing risk of infection. Some nursing homes closed their doors for visitors. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid recommends that all nursing home facilities nationwide restrict access to visitors, volunteers and nonessential personnel, except in extreme circumstances, like end-of-life situations.
The Houston Senior Center on Grand Avenue is not open, but will continue to allow pickup and delivery of meals to those it serves. SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging, which oversees the center, made the decision on Friday.
“We are not acting out of panic or fear, but out of respect for public concerns and for the utmost protection of both our staff and seniors,” it said in a statement.
Others stepped in to help those affected. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which has affiliates in Texas County and is experienced with aiding in disasters, announced it was launching a special response and recovery fund to support non-profit organizations affected.
Stores that sell grocery items implemented new measures to keep shelves stocked. In some cases, closing early to replenish goods. Dollar General, with stores in several county communities, announced it was devoting its first hour of business to help those most prone to illness, the elderly.
Area churches began making plans this week to halt worship services and stream them.