As universities, sports leagues and entertainment venues have taken a lead in instituting crowd-control measures in response to the spread of the coronavirus, the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency and the county board of commissioners on Wednesday adopted revisions to the county’s pandemic response plan.
The 38-page plan not only details the county’s management of a wave of pandemic infection — from the mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response to recovery phases — but it includes guidelines in checklist form for families and businesses to contend with an outbreak.
The county’s plan first was written in 2007 and was amended in 2016, and is anchored in
response plans for worldwide outbreaks of several strains of influenza — most recently the H5N1 that began in 1997 and the avian flu.
Thomas Stutzman, executive director of ICEMA, said the county’s nine-member Pandemic Plan Committee has drawn upon the medical and human services community including Citizens’ Ambulance Service, Indiana Regional Medical Center and the county Department of Human Services to update the plan.
“What we have undertaken was to look at the existing plan, and look at the current conditions and make sure that our plan matches the information being disseminated by other organizations,” Stutzman said.
It relies on the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for medical recommendations and the American Red Cross and Ready Business for home and workplace planning and preparation.
“We performed the update over the past week and a half; we did it electronically so that we didn’t all have to get together in one room; and we shared information among each other and this is the final plan,” Stutzman told the commissioners Wednesday.
Nearly at the outset, the plan advises that it’s a work in progress.
“At this time, limited information is available to characterize the spectrum of clinical illness associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). At this time, no vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19 is available; care is supportive,” according to the plan’s threat assessment section.
In a section of assumptions about the illness, the plan says “a true pandemic comes in waves. It is expected that each wave will last four to eight weeks, with four to eight weeks in between and three to four waves total.”
Societal impacts, the plan assumes, include “between 30 and 40 percent of the workforce may not be available for work due to illness, caring for loved ones or fear of infection. This will result in significant shortages of personnel who provide essential community services.”
It devotes attention to spreading information. Public education efforts center on encouraging pre-planning, lessening panic in the general public, and increasing self-reliance to lessen the strain on medical services. It outlines the structure for public relations, now incorporating social media, during the outbreak.
(A PDF file of the Indiana County Pandemic Response Plan accompanies this story on The Indiana Gazette Online.)
Sections discuss infection-control procedures on the same footing with mental health measures, along with personal preparedness and workforce planning.
Supplements to the plan include publications on pandemic influenza and home care for pandemic flu by American Red Cross.
The CDC’s checklist for planning, prevention and dealing with self-quarantine (stocking up on toilet paper is last on a 14-point list of recommended medical, health and emergency supplies) are included in the plan.
For businesses, a CDC checklist calls for naming a worksite pandemic coordinator, identifying essential personnel and procedures, and planning for increases or decreases in demand for a company’s products during an outbreak.
Ready Business provides templates for emergency plans to guide businesses in compiling contact lists, optional worksites, partnerships, supply options, and communication and security issues.
The document concludes with a “Policy on Isolation and Quarantine For Indiana County” that lays out the goals and protocols for voluntary and involuntary isolation to halt the spread of a virus. “Social distancing” and public education steps are outlined.
Commissioner Sherene Hess acknowledged the work done on the plan.
“It’s a serious matter,” Hess said. “I’ve seen some social media activity that kind of downplays it, jokes a little bit about it. But if you have an underlying condition or you’re over 60, it’s a pretty serious matter.
“We’re leading. We’re accepting this plan, appreciate all the work being done by these leaders here. Sometimes we all have to do personally responsible things for the collective, and that’s what we’re doing here. Small changes sometimes can be the difference between life and death, so I want to thank them once again for the work being done to be proactive.”
Chairman Michael Keith acknowledged the efforts of the department heads and the courthouse maintenance staff to step up sanitation efforts and make sure hand sanitizers are stocked.
“We are trying as a county, in our leadership roles, to get information out as best we can for all of you,” Commissioner Robin Gorman added. “I’ve asked the chamber and I’ve asked my colleagues, if they’re at meetings, to continually talk about the need for continuity, for mindfulness as in common sense — don’t panic, the rest of the world is, in some cases, and it’s leading to more disruptions and problems than necessary. Wash your hands, seek information from the right places … do the right things and be educated properly on what to do. We’re all going to be impacted by this, so calm and common sense remains our leadership role in Indiana County.”