As the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 infection makes its way across the globe, people in Ashley County are starting to feel the pinch of pandemic containment.
One of the first shocks to the system came when the state department of education mandated all schools close starting Tuesday. They are closed until March 30. Because March 23 to 27 was already scheduled for Spring Break, students are only missing one week of classroom instruction, and the Crossett and Hamburg school districts have distributed Alternate Method of Instruction packets for the first week.
Parents have been forced to stay home from work or find childcare alternatives as day cares close along with the schools. Students are also feeling the impact.
Hamburg High School student Briana Huff said that she and her friends are devastated.
“Every senior looks forward to their last year of high school, but this is especially hard for those involved in extracurricular activities that are in the Spring,” Huff said.
Many seniors are now feeling devastated because of the shut down and the Arkansas Activities Association canceling spring sports.
“I could have played my last softball game already and I just didn’t know it was my last game. I have worked so hard to get to my senior year and now I might not ever get the chance to play any more softball my senior season,” Huff said.
Crossett High School student Jayden Thurmon said it’s difficult to think about what the closures mean for her school experience.
“High school life as we know it was almost over, and to have something like the coronavirus conflict with our sports and last few weeks of school is tragic,” she said.
Sabrina Poole has an elementary student in Hamburg. Poole said her child is really upset that the national robotics tournament was canceled.
“Our kids worked so hard to get to the world competition that has now been canceled due to the virus,” Poole said.
In addition to the state department of education mandating a closure of public schools this week, the Ashley County courthouse has been closed. The District Court has rescheduled its March cases for May and is conducting necessary business by videoconferencing and telephone.
When news of possible upcoming recommendation for quarantine or isolation for the general public began to circulate last week, shoppers in Ashley County quickly purchased many grocery, pharmacy and household items, resulting in some cases in empty shelves.
A cashier at a value store who asked that her name not be used because she did not have permission to speak with the press said that by Friday the store was out of toilet paper and most bleach products.
By Tuesday, a number of businesses had closed their doors to the general public. Those that remained open were having to deal with significantly decreased volume, necessary changes in how they operate and disruptions from their suppliers.
Hannah Rice at Southern Spice said that the apparel market where she goes to choose her Spring clothes has been canceled due to the virus, but she was able to go online and will have new things coming in of the spring.
“I’m just trying to stay positive and know that God is in control and that he will take care of us.”
Beech Street Bistro’s Laura Huntsman said traffic has slowed quite a bit and they’ve had to cancel their live music performances in attempt to stay under the state’s guidance to limit gatherings to 50 people.
They haven’t had any trouble getting supplies except for hand sanitizer, Huntsman said, but she has even had customers offer to purchase the hand sanitizer that they have placed at the checkout counter for customers to use.
As businesses are beginning to take guidance from the state to limit exposure to sick people, workers are beginning to be impacted. One man, who requested his name not be used because he was unsure of his employment situation, said he was sent home because he coughed at work.
Others are worried because changes in employment may have a negative cascading effect on their finances.
Tasha Dorcy said she and her family are panicking because they just purchased a home and people are getting sent home daily from her husband’s work without pay.
“We have a household of five with only one income to provide for us, and that’s scary,” Dorcy said.
The virus is even affecting former Georgia Pacific workers who were laid off last year. The workers were recently approved for Trade Adjustment Assistance, and the on-the-site meetings with representatives that were scheduled were moved to online and telephone operations.
The University of Arkansas—Monticello has transitioned to online classes, and both of the public libraries in the county are closed to the general public. The Crossett library is offering curbside checkout and some other services by appointment. The Ashley County Library is offering library cards online so patrons can access ebooks through the Overdrive app.
Doctors’ offices and Ashley County Medical Center began screening patients before allowing them to walk in the door of their facilities.
A hospital spokesperson said ACMC is working with the Arkansas Department of Health and keeping abreast of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“ACMC asks that patients call ahead to the clinics and ER if you are experiencing a respiratory illness before arriving,” the spokesperson said.
“We are attempting to limit the number of unannounced arrivals so proper precautions can be taken for patients, our staff, and other patients in waiting areas.
“Some low-risk patients with very mild symptoms similar to the common cold may be directed to treat supportively at home without a visit to the doctor. This is to reduce exposure to other patients and healthcare personnel, as well as to preserve limited resources.
“For patients requiring a doctor’s visit you will be instructed regarding appointment times, points of entry into the facility, et cetera.
“If you are to be seen in the ER or at an ACMC Clinic, expect to be given a mask upon arrival and instructions on how to wear it. This will help prevent further transmission from ill patients to other patients and staff members.”
The hospital is also asking that no one use the ER entrance between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. unless they are going to be treated as an ER patient.