The deadly and rapid spread of the COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has forced public schools and colleges throughout Northeast Arkansas to close and many public institutions are taking steps to limit interactions to help prevent further spread of the virus. New protocols have been put into place at the area’s two largest hospitals, St. Bernards and NEA Baptist.
Arkansas State University informed its students on Sunday (March 15) that all classes for the rest of the semester will be online, but the campus remains open. Black River Technical College has closed its campus and won’t re-evaluate when it will re-open until March 30.
On Monday (March 16), NEA Baptist began precautionary screening of patients, visitors, and employees for signs and symptoms of the disease. There will be a screening area as patients and visitors enter the main hospital lobby. Visitors screening positive will be asked to leave. During this time, public access to the facility is restricted to the main hospital entrance, main clinic entrance, and emergency department. Hours of operation will be adjusted. Visitors are asked to be limited to two per patient with no children under 15 allowed.
On the same day, St. Bernards will limit the number of publicly-available entrances to three while allowing a maximum number of two patient visitors as well. Individuals will undergo screenings at each entry before receiving admittance. SBMC Administrator Michael Givens said the hospital made a collective decision amid growing concerns an infected individual could unintentionally expose vulnerable patients, hospital employees, and visitors to COVID-19.
“St. Bernards is not turning away patients or eliminating visitors,” Givens said. “We understand the importance that healthy social interaction plays in the healing process, but we are trying to protect those already in our care.”
The city of Jonesboro is extending closures of community and senior centers and limiting public gatherings on all city properties, Mayor Harold Perrin said. All public city meetings, including Tuesday’s city council, will be postponed and rescheduled when a plan that will ensure the safety of all participants is deployed. Any agenda item will automatically be included in the rescheduled meeting. Anyone who has official business with the city is encouraged to contact the city by phone or email to determine whether an in-person meeting is necessary.
“We are implementing procedures recommended by the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health and our own medical director, Dr. Shane Speights of NYIT,” Perrin said. “City operations will continue, and administrators are working to create policies that will keep employees safe and healthy. All employees should report as usual unless notified by department directors.”
The city’s response involves critical measures to impede the spread of coronavirus in Jonesboro. Perrin also issued a statement regarding the anticipated growth of coronavirus in Jonesboro in coming weeks and months.
The CDC and ADH also warn that social distancing is the most important practice for businesses, churches, agencies and even families.
“As your mayor, I am concerned that Jonesboro residents are not taking the advice of social distancing seriously enough. Separation — at least six feet — is the best way for us to prevent coronavirus from having a devastating effect on you or your loved ones.”
“This is something that everyone should take seriously. This is a growing emergency that requires a smart response. Buying up toilet paper and other such items is not the solution,” he said. “Social distancing — a phrase you should be becoming familiar with — is smart and critical.”
Perrin added, “This is difficult not only because we enjoy gathering with our friends and loved ones, but we often use our elder family members as babysitters for our children.”