Zents provides update

Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services Tracy Zents provides an update on the coronavirus as it pertains to Jefferson County.

BROOKVILLE — There are no cases of coronavirus in Jefferson County as of Tuesday, said Jefferson County Emergency Services Director Tracy Zents. Even if a case were to occur, he noted that the county, through the Department of Emergency Services, has had a Pandemic Response Plan in place since 2007, stressing several times that people should remain calm.

“For probably the last 11-12 years we’ve had a plan in place for the event of a public health outbreak or pandemic. The last time that we utilized our plan was during the H1N1 scare where we assisted the school districts setting up vaccination sites at the schools for the small children because at that time H1N1 (2009) was more susceptible to the children. We also did PODS within the county as well. A pod is a point of distribution where you can come to one location to get the vaccines for it.

“We’ve had a plan in place for a good many years and we’re ready to address any kind of concerns and needs that would be in our communities in the event that this would hit us. I can tell you as of right now, there is no reported cases in Jefferson County, which is a good thing,” Zents said.

He cautioned everybody that the coronavirus is a form of influenza, and one of the things that is out there about it is first of all there’s no vaccine for it yet because it is what they call a novel virus. It’s new. So they’re in the process of developing the vaccine for it.

On Friday, Governor Tom Wolf has committed the help of all state agencies to address this outbreak and do everything it can to prevent it’s spread.

“We have participated in multiple conference calls with the County Commissioners Association, the Department of Health, and PEMA about where we stand in the Commonwealth, and where they stand with any kind of vaccines or any kind of treatment, and all that is still being developed right now,” he said.

He did list some recommendations that people “should be doing every day.”

Things you can do:

  • Cover any sneezes or coughs with your elbow. Try not to use your hands
  • Clean surfaces frequently
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better. There is no treatment for the virus, only treatment for symptoms
  • Monitor reliable media sources for accurate information such as the CDC, or Pennsylvania Department of Health.
  • If there are confirmed cases in the area, avoid large gatherings.

Zents noted that there is a shortage currently of “hand sanitizers and as some of the disinfecting wipes that are out there. We know that there’s been different news reports telling people to stock up on all these supplies and while this is a serious concern the coronavirus, we just want everybody to remain vigilant, remain focused on it and to be calm. We’ll manage through this.

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“The symptoms are the same as a regular flu-like virus. We are committed to making sure that we can get the correct information out to all the residents within the county all that work here, visit here or live here. Because a big concern that we have is there’s so much national news media out there that’s getting conflicting information to people. We just want everyone to be calm. We’ll work with everybody to try to help whatever we can and remain focused. As with anything, any kind of cold symptoms or whatever, we’re asking people to stay home from work or whatever till you’re feeling better. Contact your health care provider. There’s no treatment for this right now, just for the symptoms – the runny nose, the fever, the cough, the shortness of breath. Those are all common sense medicine things that that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

“I can’t stress enough about just remaining calm and be vigilant on this. We’ll be as transparent as we possibly can on any type of cases that would hit the county or potentially hit the county,” Zents said, adding that while the area is not “as affected as anticipated” they are prepared for it. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

What Zents does want people to be concerned about are the possible scams that may appear in relation to this crisis. “I want everybody to be concerned on the scams that could potentially affect this virus or be out there because of this virus. Yesterday, several accounting offices, including my offices, the commissioners and so forth received an email that appeared that it was coming from an official source that reported cases in our area. What it turned out to be was a phishing or a scam email. Again, I want to make sure that everybody’s cautious with those kinds of emails that are coming out because of the correct information getting into the hands of the people. But just generally be cautious about all the emails that you do receive and to make sure that it’s legit look at the email address that is coming from. And if it looks like it’s coming from like the Department of Health, which is pa.gov, or the CDC which would be cdc.gov, those are legit emails, but if you see something other than that be very cautious before you open it, because again, it could be some type of virus and it could infect your computer, or worse if it’s in a work environment it could take down servers and cause a lot of issues there.

Zents also noted that a task force is being formed. Various “key groups within the county will be reaching out to them to sit down and have a meeting, and what our goal is from that is just to make sure that the correct information is getting to the people within the county, the most accurate information,” he said.

The task force will address certain objectives:

  • To keep all the residents of the County informed on the status of the outbreak. It is the intent to provide as accurate of information as possible.
  • To address any unmet needs and to keep continuity of operations throughout the county by outreach and education. It is our intent to do all we can do stop the spread of this outbreak.
  • Be prepared to support Department of Health and local activities in order to respond to the COVID-19 for the residents of Jefferson County.

Zents did note that health officials do believe with the way the coronavirus is spreading that it is more of a case of “when” the virus arrives in the area rather than an “if.” He said as of his count Monday night, there were only seven states in the U.S. that did not have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

“These are cases that are actually being tested so somebody may be carrying it but not know it, they may not have any symptoms,” he said, adding that symptoms may not appear for two to 14 days.

As for reports of a shortage of test kits for the virus, Zents says for now “we’re going to depend on our hospitals and the Department of Health for that resource. The hospitals are going to be key for testing.

“I’m not sure yet if the local doctors offices will have any kind of test kits available, but I do know that before they would have to send a lot of these tests out of state, but now they’ll be able to do that within Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf had issued a declaration of emergency, for the Commonwealth, which allowed a lot of those extra things to happen on this end. So somebody may be carrying the virus but not know unless it’s actually tested. That’s the only way that we’ll know if there’s any confirmed cases or not.”

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