Concerns over COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, hit Webster County last week as local and state authorities began working to stop the spread of what the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as a worldwide pandemic.
The first action from Webster County came on Tuesday, March 10, when Judge Executive Steve Henry issued a county-wide State of Emergency.
According to Henry, the declaration came not in response to any locally suspected cases of the virus, but following recommendations from Governor Andy Beshear and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). At the time of the declaration, there had only been nine reported cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth, with the closest being in Louisville/Jefferson County, some two hours away.
What the declaration does is make the county eligible for FEMA money in the event that an outbreak did happen in Webster County. In the event of such a situation, FEMA provides funding and manpower to help local authorities recover from an emergency situation.
Webster County was one of the first in western Kentucky to pass such a declaration.
Following the county’s declaration, Red Banks Colonial Terrace Nursing Home in Sebree announced that it would not be allowing visitors into its facility. A few hours later, Shemwell’s Nursing Home in Providence announced that it would be limiting visitations to “end of life” situations only. Both decisions were based on recommendations from the Governor’s office.
On Wednesday, Jailer Morgan McKinley announced that the Webster County Detention Center would be suspending all contact visitations.
“Regular visitation will continue until such time as it is deemed too risky to do so,” McKinley stated in a release. “Anyone who comes to the jail exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness will be asked to leave the building. All visitors are asked by jail staff to practice common sense hygiene prior to arrival or by using the lobby restrooms.”
He said this recommendation had come from both the governor’s office and the state association of jailers.
On Thursday, Governor Beshear recommended that all schools in the state close beginning Monday, March 16 and remain closed for at least two weeks. While many schools in the area announced their decision to close almost immediately, Webster County Schools held out until late in the day on Friday before making the decision to cancel school for two weeks, starting Monday, March 16.
That same day the Kentucky High School Athletic Association announced that all school sports, regardless of season, were to be placed in a “dead period” until April 12. During that period no games are allowed to take place, and players are not allowed on school athletic property or to meet with coaches.
Also on Friday, Webster County Circuit Court Clerk Janet Cole announced that persuant to an order from the supreme court, all court in Kentucky would be suspended from March 16 through April 10, 2020.
Saturday the Providence Community Food Bank announced that it would altering its procedures for the foreseeable future. (See separate story)
On Monday, Governor Andy Beshear reported the first Coronavirus fatality in the commonwealth.
“Sadly, last night, we lost a Bourbon County man who was treated for multiple medical conditions and tested positive for COVID-19, which was a contributing factor,” said Gov. Beshear. “My family and every Kentuckian is lifting up his friends, family and community in our thoughts and prayers. While we have taken aggressive action to combat this world health pandemic, in the days and weeks ahead, we must continue to pull together as Kentuckians to stop the spread of this virus. We are a resilient people. We will beat this virus.”
Following the announcement, he outlined a new “aggressive” approach to fighting the virus, including directing restaurants and bars around the commonwealth to halt all in-person business. For many restaurants that means switching to drive-thru and delivery service only.
This also resulted in the closing of Providence VFW Post 7387, which will cease all bar activities, meetings and bingo until further notice, while Paula’Z in Providence announced it would be offering carryout food only.
The city of Providence announced on Monday that until further notice, it would only be taking utility payments through the night drop, via telephone 270-667-5463 and via the city’s website at providenceky.com. The change follows guidelines set by Governor Beshear.
The Webster County School Board also announced on Monday that its March 23 meeting would go on as scheduled, but only the superintendent, board members, the district finance officer, board attorney and the media will be allowed to attend. The meeting will be live streamed, but the platform for that stream has yet to be announced.
On Tuesday, Mayor Doug Hammers of Providence declared a state of emergency within the city of Providence. He explained that the decision, like the county’s, was about streamlining FEMA funding opportunities in the event that the Coronavirus did reach the city.
Also on Tuesday, county officials announced that the Webster County Courthouse would be closed until further notice. A drop box was installed in the rear lobby of the building for those needing to conduct business with one of the agencies located in the building.
Reach MATT HUGHES
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