'Common-sense' measures urged at COVID-19 press conference

At a press conference held Thursday morning, the City of Kerrville in partnership with Peterson Health reported updated COVID-19 numbers and reiterated the necessity of common-sense precautions to flatten the curve of coronavirus in Kerr County.

“Act like you have the virus,” said Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn in his opening remarks. “(Then) we will use our masks and we will observe social distancing and take the other measures so that we are not infecting others.”

He said that for the sake of both public health and the economy, it’s necessary to flatten the curve so the county sees fewer active cases, and noted that the unemployment rate countywide is sitting at 6 percent.

Blackburn said that Kerrville ISD Superintendent Mark Foust and Schreiner University representatives were not in attendance, but would join him in upcoming press conferences.

Kerrville Fire Chief Dannie Smith reported that as of Thursday, there have been 371 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, and of those, 48 are active.

In Kerr County in the past week, 524 tests were performed, of which 36 were positive – a positivity rate of 6.9 percent for the week of July 19-26. This is trending downward from the previous week, which had a positivity rate of 8.1 percent, and the week before that, which had a positivity rate of 17.8 percent.

Smith cautioned that there may be a discrepancy in state reported numbers and local reported numbers, as state reporting is generally lagging behind.

“The city of Kerrville, Kerr County and Peterson (Health) are working together in an attempt to provide the community the most consistent and timely information we can regarding our COVID cases in Kerr County,” Smith said.

He encouraged the general public to visit Peterson Health’s website, www.petersonhealth.com, for the most up-to-date numbers and information.

Those looking to be tested will have an opportunity Aug. 5 at the Hill Country Youth Event Center. “That testing will not require a pre-appointment,” Smith said. “(It will be a) walk-up testing site, and we will provide you with more specific information in the near future.”

Smith instructed the general public to follow CDC recommendations to slow or stop the spread of the virus: frequent hand-washing, sanitizing frequently touched services, maintaining six feet of social distancing, wearing a mask and – especially if elderly or immunocompromised – staying home when possible.

“I’d … like to wrap up my comments with reminding the community that COVID-19 is still a serious threat in our community,” he said.

Lisa Winters, Peterson Health director of marketing and community relations, commended Peterson Health employees’ persistence during the pandemic.

“We’ve been standing strong on the front line now for … months and we’re working together every single second,” Winters said. “We may be tired, but we are stronger than ever.”

She noted that Peterson Health has seven patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 4 on regular medical floors and 3 in the intensive care unit.

“Kerr County is reporting four deaths,” she said. “None have occurred at Peterson Regional Medical Center but our heart and prayers go out to families.”

Winters added that PRMC results are combined with the county’s results daily and posted publicly on the Peterson Health website around 4:30 p.m. each day.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, a strict no-visitors policy remains in place at the hospital, she added, and PRMC will be extending its visitation restrictions for 60 more days – through Oct. 6.

“Making adjustments to our visitation policy is one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make,” Winters said. “We do know how hard it is, but please know we strive to ensure that our patients are loved and well cared for, and do not feel alone or lonely.”

Peterson Health Infection Prevention RN Pam Burton said COVID-19 screenings continue to be conducted at Peterson Urgent Care, located at 1740 Junction Highway, and staff has been increased to meet the community’s needs. Testing is by appointment only.

Those feeling symptomatic, or who have been in contact with a person who has tested positive, can call 830-258-7814 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or 8 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

A COVID-19 hotline is also operational and can be reached Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the main PRMC number, 830-896-4200, and selecting option 1.

Burton has fielded many questions regarding surge capacity, and said that PRMC is prepared for a surge of patients and will do everything possible to keep them cared for locally.

Peterson Health continues to be operational for surgeries and outpatient surgeries, and starting June 19, Peterson Health made it a requirement that all employees – including nonclinical staff – wear face masks (critical staff and direct patient care employees, had, of course, already been doing so).

Burton cautioned those reluctant to keep their regular appointments or visit the emergency room that the hospital is safe and sanitary.

“Not coming to the ER could be critical in many situations, (so) please come to the hospital,” she said, “Peterson Health wants to assure the public that the standards and the cleanliness and our practices and protocols here at the hospital remain the highest level at all times.”

This week, Peterson Health tested 552 employees for appropriate protective equipment to ensure that they have the right protective equipment and it fits them well.

“We are stopping at nothing to protect their safety,” Burton said. “There are troopers within the Peterson Health system.”

Lastly, she added that Peterson Health employees are also encouraged to wear masks and maintain social distancing in public.

“We believe strongly that masks can help stop and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and we want to set a good example as healthcare workers out in the community,” she said.

Blackburn concluded the meeting by noting that local community leaders are looking at the preponderance of scientific evidence about how to handle the virus, and are looking to examples set by other states and other countries.

“That’s the spirit in which we come to you,” he said gently. “Just be safe out there.”

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