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Southeast Health security officer David Nix screens a visitor to the hospital on Monday morning.

How local schools, governments and businesses respond to COVID-19 keeps evolving as more cases are confirmed and new guidelines on public gatherings are issued.

While initially planning to be open, local school systems announced immediate closures. The Wiregrass Museum of Art and the Dothan Houston County Library System are both closed until further notice. Events, club meetings, golf tournaments, council meetings and even access to veterans’ offices were restricted, postponed or canceled.

“We’re trying to adhere as much as possible to what the CDC and the state department of health (advise),” said Nicki Knight, the general manager for KBC restaurant in downtown Dothan. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have, but we’re just taking it day by day just like everyone else.”

KBC staffers are sanitizing tables, chairs, booths, doorknobs the restaurant’s bar and everything else in between guests. The restaurant has switched to single-use menus and even closed some tables to allow for more distance between seated customers. They’re also asking customers to pay with credit cards instead of cash. Knight said the restaurant has also partnered with meal delivery services like DoorDash and Takeout Star.

Large retailers like Walmart and grocery store chains like Publix reduced their hours of operation to give staff time to fully clean the businesses.

Yoga and massage studio The Nature Gallery in downtown Dothan announced it was suspending classes until the need for social distancing has passed. The studio hopes to do some online classes, said Jason Watford, an instructor at The Nature Gallery.

“It’s just a safety precaution measure,” Watford said. “It was a very tough decision.”

Although the decision to close things like schools also creates other issues for children who rely on school for part of their meals, Dothan City Schools plans to offer curbside delivery of meals the rest of this week and the week of March 30 to April 3 at Beverlye Intermediate, Dothan City Schools Head Start, Jerry Lee Faine Elementary, Kelly Springs Elementary, Morris Slingluff Elementary and Selma Street Elementary. Meals can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Local churches are also stepping up to serve meals to children, and Knight at KBC said the restaurant will offer free meals Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for children ages 10 and younger as long as schools are closed. Children will have a choice of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or chicken nuggets paired with chips and fruit. The child must be present to get the meal.

“There’s no purchase required, they just have to come in, bring the child with them and they’ll get a meal for them — however many they have,” Knight said.

It’s seriousDr. Amith Skandhan, an internal medicine doctor and a hospitalist with Southeast Health, said people in the community should take the newest human coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes very seriously.

“One of the things as a physician that bothers me — I hear a lot of people coming up and saying it’s just flu, it’s nothing to worry about; it’s just older people who need to worry about it,” said Skandhan, who is an editor for The Hospitalist magazine and co-authored a clinical article on COVID-19.

While the majority of patients with COVID-19 may not need to be hospitalized, those who are hospitalized are very sick, including needing ventilators and even life support in severe cases.

Social distancing is a big precautionary measure because the closer you are to someone infected for a prolonged time, the higher your risk to become infected.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can show up two to 14 days after exposure and range from a mild respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath to severe pneumonia with respiratory failure. Older adults or anyone with underlying chronic medical conditions such as diabetes seem to be at higher risk for more severe symptoms.

Skandhan said hand-washing or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is important, and people need to dry hands thoroughly after washing. And if you’re sick, stay home.

“It is not just about you,” he said. “It is about everyone in the community because you could spread it to people. Nobody has immunity to this virus. Chances of them becoming significantly sicker and dying are higher because of that.”

The doctor said families should have a household plan that includes identifying those at higher risk.

“Do you have a plan if one of the family members falls sick?” Skandhan said “How do you isolate that person from the remaining family … and provide them the care they need?”

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