Johnston declares state of emergency

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SMITHFIELD — After confirming its second coronavirus case over the weekend, Johnston County declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Among other things, the declaration speeds up assistance from the state and federal governments if needed, Ted Godwin, chairman of Johnston’s Board of Commissioners, said in a statement Monday morning. “Our team feels that this declaration will strategically position our local emergency management personnel to receive necessary equipment and supplies more quickly,” he said.

Also, the declaration puts the county in emergency-operations mode, much like it would be in a hurricane, and it prohibits price gouging, with each offense punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“The events of the past several days have been unprecedented and unnerving to us all,” Godwin said.

But all the while, the county has been working to keeping Johnstonians safe, he said. “The emergency-management team (and) the professionals at (the) Johnston County Health Department have already been actively engaged in preparing for whatever ways the coronavirus may impact our county and our citizens,” Godwin said.

The board chairman said the county is committed to being transparent in dealing with the coronavirus threat. “Our board members, along with all elected leaders in Johnston County, consider the health and well-being of our citizens to be our top priority,” Godwin said. “Johnston County citizens have always pulled together in difficult times. I feel confident that with diligence, good faith and open communications, we can weather this crisis as well.”

Commissioners were scheduled to hold an emergency meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, to talk about the coronavirus response.

Meanwhile, the county’s second coronavirus case is in the same household as the first, which health officials called predictable in a news release on Saturday.

“This is not unexpected ...,” said Dr. Marilyn Pearson, head of the Johnston County Public Health Department.

But this second case is unlikely to be the last, Pearson said. “It’s likely that more individuals will test presumptively positive for the virus,” she said.

The affected person is currently in isolation at home, the health department said.

As it did with the first case, the health department is creating a timeline of where the second case went and when, paying particular attention to places visited when the person became symptomatic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people are at highest risk of exposure to the coronavirus when the affected person is showing flu-like symptoms.

“The timeline will help our public health staff determine who is at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 from this individual,” the news release said. “If you are at increased risk, our public health team will contact you directly.”

“If a member of our team does not contact you and you do not have any symptoms, you do not need to quarantine yourself or take precautions beyond washing your hands, covering your cough and staying home from school or work if you feel sick,” the news release added.

In a news release on Friday, the county’s health department said it had traced the timeline of the first Johnston patient and found no reason to notify any public places.

As of late early Monday morning, North Carolina had 33 confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases in 13 counties. In addition to Johnston, those counties are Wake, Wayne, Wilson, Harnett, Durham, Chathan, Craven, Onslow, Brunswick, Forsyth, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Watauga.

Wake County had the most cases, 11. Mecklenburg had four. No other county had more than two.

The risk of contracting COVID-19 locally remains low, the health department said. Still, it encourages Johnstonians to protect themselves from COVID-19 by following these simple steps:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Stay away from sick people.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces – especially ones you touch frequently – using regular household cleaning spray or wipes.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands.

• Stay home if you’re sick and don’t send sick children to school or child care.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19, go to ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus. In addition to the website, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has established a COVID-19 information line for anyone who has questions about the virus. That number is 866-462-3821.

Also, the county is sharing information on its social media accounts.