Chris McKlarney...

Giles County Administrator Chris McKlarney

PEARISBURG, Va. — A program intended to facilitate looking out for Giles County’s older and more vulnerable residents is among several local initiatives rapidly established by county officials in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Virginia.

“We launched a program called Senior Check two days ago,” said Giles County Administrator Chris McKlarney, on Wednesday.

“Obviously the most vulnerable populations to this virus are the elderly and also those with special needs. We got together with the New River Valley Agency on Aging, our Senior Center, the Department of Social Services and some other agencies, We put together a database of these folks to find out who they are and where they’re living to make sure someone is helping them, because these folks absolutely need to stay quarantined,” he said.

The program, which has also rallied the support of county churches and civic groups, compiled an initial list of approximately 400 potentially at-risk citizens that has since been winnowed to a roster of around 115 isolated individuals who have no friends or family to look in on them. County employees routinely phone the persons on this list.

“We’ve got a script that we go through to try to make sure they’re healthy and determine out if they have any needs,” said McKlarney, who noted the shut-ins themselves elect the frequency of the calls.

“We’ve got several volunteer agencies and churches ... providing food and other resources. We’re trying to meet these seniors’ needs. And our Sheriffs Department has also agreed to conduct welfare checks, “ said McKlarney, who said Senior Check has helped the helpers quickly reach those most in need without unnecessarily duplicating efforts.

“This has been a good program for our community. It has overwhelming support. Restaurants have agreed to provide meals. We’ve had a lot of folks wanting to make donations, people wanting to transport goods and services, to people,” he said.

“Thus far the public has really banded together. This is a tight-knit community. People look out for one another. We’re just trying to make sure that everybody who needs something ... we’re trying to get it to them,” said McKlarney, who said he’s not seen a crisis of this magnitude in his lifetime, much less during his

McKlarney said the county’s mobilization efforts in response to the crisis began on March 13. Developments have been daily, as they been with the rest of the country.

“This has been very fast-paced,” said McKlarney, who said he’s never seen a crisis of this magnitude in his lifetime, much less during his quarter century as a county official.

“By the governor’s order, many businesses are shut down. All the county operations are functional that are permissible. Our Wellness Center and Senior Center are closed at this time. But all of our other operations are up and functioning,” McKlarney said.

“The buildings are locked down, but we have drive-up services so you can come and we can meet with you outside. We’ve installed electronic devices that basically ring doorbells. You can walk up and touch that. You can tell us what you need and whichever department can work with you comes out. We’re passing (mail and documents) through mail slots,” he said.

Currently, travel is not as restricted in Virginia as it is in West Virginia.

“Governor Justice’s order was a Stay-At-Home Order, and that has not been issued here at this point,” McKlarney said. “There’s no travel restrictions in Virginia at this point. Employees who live in West Virginia are still traveling into Virginia every day to work in essential businesses and essential industries.”

“I think the biggest challenge we face as a nation right now is how to maintain social distancing and also maintaining an economy and keeping our small businesses in business,” he said.

McKlarney said the passage of the federal stimulus package will help, but Giles County has already enacted a program to help the county’s hardest-hit businesses: restaurants — most of which still offer takeout service —and lodging properties.

“You can go on the county website and buy a gift card in $20. For every $20 you spend, you get $30. That additional 50 percent is coming from the county and town governments. The idea is to try to get some cash into the hands of these folks, right away. It’s a great deal for citizens and it conveniently gets money into our businesses that need it right now.”

Outdoor recreation opportunities have been a major focus of economic developments within the county in recent years. Many outdoor activities afforded by the New River and surrounding mountains remain accessible, but one of the county’s most popular attractions — the Cascades Recreation Area — was closed by the U.S. Forest Service as of Wednesday.

“People are still getting outside. Our golf course is still open, all we do is require people to practice safe social distancing,” McKlarney said. “The virus is difficult to catch outside as long as you maintain social separation of six to eight feet. So we’re encouraging people to get out and spend time in parks and on trails and wherever they can. That has not changed at this point, at least,” he said.

Only one case of COVID-19 had been reported in the New River Valley as of early Wednesday afternoon. It was determined to be travel related — not locally spread.

— Contact George Thwaites at gthwaites@bdtonline.com

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