Rhea Medical Center officials said they are monitoring the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. and in the State of Tennessee and are prepared should Rhea County see a case of the virus.

Rhea Medical Center CEO David Bixler said the hospital has been in constant contact with both the Tennessee Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We have to be prepared. We have to be 100 percent on guard,” Bixler said. “We train and prepare for any type of infectious disease. From a supply standpoint, […] we’re making sure we have a significant amount of supplies.”

He said that hospital personnel are also trained in the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and the staff at the hospital has been trained in the proper procedures when dealing with diseases.

“The hospital does have an emergency management plan,” he said.

Rhea Medical Center Quality Director Brand Lytle said that the hospital started getting alerts about the spread of the virus in January.

“We’re as prepared as anyone around,” Lytle said. “And we’re following the outlines of the Tennessee Department of Health and the CDC.”

Bixler said that the hospital is currently asking that the community be mindful of the disease and limit visiting patients in the hospital if you are sick.

“We do have an obligation to protect our patients,” he said.

Currently, people with flu-like symptoms and people who have traveled to a high-risk area for the new coronavirus — or COVID-19 — are not permitted to visit patients in the hospital. Healthy visitors to Rhea Medical Center are urged to wash hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after visiting a patient in the hospital.

Lytle said that the hospital recently held a meeting with officials from schools, government and law enforcement to make them aware of COVID-10 preparedness plans.

Rhea County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy John Argo said that the sheriff’s department typically clean the backs of patrol cars after each arrest and will disinfect those seats after each transportation.

“We’ve had meetings with the hospital, and we’re prepared to assist the community in any way we can and keep people safe,” Argo said.

School districts across the nation are considering whether or not to keep schools open, and Rhea County Director of School Jerry Levengood said that the Rhea County School System is also monitoring the spread of the new virus closely.

County and city school students are scheduled to go on Spring Break next week, and Levengood said the absence of students next week will give school staff time to clean school.

“Fortunately, we’re off for Spring Break next week,” Levengood said. “The news about this virus changes every day, so we will look at the situation in the middle of next week and make a decision on whether or not to extend Spring Break.”

Dayton City School officials said they are also on Spring Break next week and are monitoring the spread of the virus. Dayton Mayor and Dayton City School Board Chair Gary Louallen said that students will be out of school next week, and the school will be closed on Monday, March 23. He said that school officials will make a decision by Monday, March 23, on whether or not to extend Spring Break.

As of press time Friday, the Tennessee Department of Health said there have been 18 people throughout the state who have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of those cases are in Middle Tennessee, with Davidson County reporting six cases and Williamson County reporting eight cases. Shelby County has reported two cases, Sullivan County has reported one case and Knox County has reported one case.

The Tennessee Supreme Court also announced on Friday that courts throughout the state will perform only absolutely necessary functions. Court in officials in Rhea County said that most court matters in the county will now likely be postponed until April 1.

The spread of the new virus prompted Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to declare a state of emergency on Thursday.

“[Thursday’s] action will move us into position to utilize additional emergency funds as needed and relax provisions of certain laws to provide the flexibility needed to respond to this disease,” Lee said. “While the risk to the general public remains low, we encourage all Tennesseans to exercise caution and maintain good hygiene practices as there are serious risks to our vulnerable populations. We will continue to evaluate and adapt our position accordingly to fit what we believe is best for Tennesseans.”

State officials said the state of emergency facilitates the treatment and containment of COVID-19. To achieve these goals, the state of emergency:

• Implements the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan;

• Permits health care professionals licensed in other states to provide health care services in Tennessee related to COVID-19;

• Allows pharmacists to dispense an extra 30-day supply of maintenance prescriptions as needed in response to COVID-19;

• Allows health care professionals to provide localized treatment to patients in temporary residences;

• Expands testing sites for COVID-19;

• Allows the construction of temporary health care structures in response to COVID-19;

• Implements price gouging protections on medical and emergency supplies;

• Suspends restrictions on vehicles transporting emergency supplies to areas affected by COVID-19;

• Permits the waiver of certain regulations on childcare centers as needed to respond to the effect of COVID-19;

• Authorizes TennCare policy changes to ensure that covered individuals receive medically necessary services without disruption; and

• Directs coordination with health insurance plans to improve access to screening, testing, and treatment for COVID-19.

State officials are urging vulnerable populations to stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings or locations where they are more likely to contact the virus. Vulnerable populations include older adults and adults with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness. Non-essential visits to nursing homes and hospitals are strongly discouraged.

For additional information on COVID-19, visit