By Terry Harris

At the end of his report to the Surry County Board of Supervisors last Thursday, Chief of Emergency Management Ray Phelps shared a chilling insight into the current thinking of area health officials related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the things we discussed at today’s Crater Health District meeting is that we need to start preparing ourselves for longevity of this,” Phelps said. “From the Health Department Level now they’re talking until the end of 2021 that we're going to be dealing with the altered way of life and precautions that we take. So, we need to do what we can to try and prevent prolonging that as much as possible.”

This weekend, Phelps elaborated on what that potentially means to the country and to the area, as both Surry and Sussex Counties are included in the Crater Health District.

“During our weekly conference call, all the localities in the region get together and talk about concerns we have like upcoming testing, what the state and the governor are recommending, and how to approach it as a local government,” Phelps explained. “That’s when they said that we need to start thinking seriously about plans for dealing with the situation and ways to slow or stop the spread.  Currently Surry County is at 119 positive cases with four deaths. Things have slowed down a bit from the rate where we were last month, but we are still continuing to increase our numbers. And while the Crater Health District has moved back into the moderate zone, the rate of spread has increased in the in the two regions that we're closely affiliated with.”

Phelps expressed gratitude about more tests becoming available, with two additional test dates being set up in October but shared that he is concerned about the current attitude toward testing. 

“People need to take the initiative,” he said.  “Saturday, we had COVID testing scheduled, but we cancelled because only two people had pre-registered. I was very disappointed in that for all of us.  Besides the fact that it’s a lot of volunteer work to come set up the free tests, they are starting to cancel the testing if people don’t pre-register.  So, it’s imperative that people pre-register so we don’t lose the opportunities.”

“We’re even giving out a free mask and hand sanitizer to people who come and get tested,” he added.  “It’s easy.  Just call 804-863-4652 for dates, times, and locations and to schedule an appointment.”

When asked about Silent Covid that has been in the news of late – the very large number of people who are infected but asymptomatic and unknowingly spreading the infection to everyone they meet, his response was simple: “If everybody is wearing their mask they won’t have to worry about Silent Covid.”

“If you go into the store or gas station or any public place not wearing a mask,” he explained, “you have to worry about whatever everybody else is doing. Are they giving it to you or passing it through you to someone you love?  What we try to push is for everyone to set an example for family members, people who work for you, everyone to just go ahead and wear a mask to stop the spread of the virus. It’s such a simple thing to do.”

“Nobody wants to wear masks forever,” he continued. “We don’t!  It is not a natural thing for us to wear a mask or not to shake hands or hug people.  However, we have got to make some changes to ensure that people are safe – and to stop this.   Because even if you don’t feel bad and don’t know that you’re infected, you're taking it home to a grandparent or somebody with underlying health issues like asthma or diabetes or obesity - or maybe even a child. And all you had to do to avoid that and potentially save their life is just spend a little time with a covering over your mouth and your nose when you’re out in public.”

“People just need to be respectful of others,” Phelps added.  “Because that mask helps prevent the spread, and it helps other people feel more comfortable and safer. It is really such a little thing to do. I wear it so I don’t bring it home to my wife or my grandson.  Yes, the majority of the public recovers.  I understand that.  But some are not recovering – at all.  And people have to realize that they are not just wearing it for themselves. They are wearing it for others, too.  It’s just the right thing to do.”