RICHMOND, Virginia - Communities across the country are bracing to deal with the impact of coronavirus. Local health departments are working overtime to manage what could become a worst-case scenario. In Central Virginia, government leaders are taking a regional approach activating an incident management team.
Dr. Danny Avula serves as Public Health Director for the city of Richmond and neighboring Henrico County.
"And so now instead of each locality having to make their own decisions or best guesses based on the information they have, that will all be streamlined through a regional infrastructure," Avula said.
"The decisions that we make collectively about whether to hold a basketball game, that affects not just the people in one locality, but those have regional implications," he said.
Avula says making those decisions is complicated by COVID-19's elusive nature.
"One of the challenges is when 80 plus percent of individuals who get the virus have indistinguishable cold symptoms, they can transmit the virus to people who are much more susceptible to it without even knowing it," Avula said.
That alone, he adds, significantly increases chances of the disease spreading to his community.
As the threat grows, Avula says officials will make regional decisions about when to close schools, businesses or even advise churches to cancel service.
"If we're having widespread transmission and we're starting to see deaths here in Virginia, and again I fully expect all of those things to happen, then I think there will be clear guidance to faith communities and congregations to say maybe we do a web service this week or for this period of time," Avula said adding that modifications may also need to be made in the way communion is administered.
Richmond Community Church Senior Pastor Rick McDaniel says he doesn't foresee canceling any services.
"I think the church has an opportunity here really to show that it will practice its faith over fear," McDaniel said.
"I think we would always have church, we would always have the doors of the church open, we would always have services and then people would have to make up their own decisions about whether they want to come or not," McDaniel said.
Although many states now have the ability to test locally for COVID-19 rather than having to send cultures to the CDC in Atlanta, the availability of test kits is limited. Avula says the required criteria for testing means cases will slip through the cracks.
Health officials stress people should not panic but they should remain vigilant and practice good hygiene including frequently washing hands.