Churches adapt, CRHS essential visitation policy, and other COVID-19 news today

A rainbow over St. Paul United Methodist Church (File photo, Deuce Niven)

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

     As area churches use technology for worship services while adapting to social distancing laws and regulations in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, Columbus Regional Healthcare will be enacting an essential visitation policy this Sunday.

     This post will cover these topics:

  • Churches embrace tech
  • CRHS/Essential visitor policy
  • HGTC postpones commencement
  • Child care order
  • DMV order
  • Coronavirus fraud

Churches embrace tech

     Churches across the Carolinas appear to be heading orders and recommendations from state and federal governments against large gatherings, including a prohibition on gatherings larger than 100 people, and recommendations against groups larger than 10.

     Churches are embracing both analog and digital technology, like Tabor City Baptist Church continuing its Sunday worship broadcasts on WTAB AM 1370 radio combined with online access to other services.

     At St. Paul United Methodist Church in Tabor City, where a congregation well below the 50 person limit recommended by the Centers for Disease Control gathered for worship last Sunday, a decision has been made by church leaders “to waive our obligation of having in-person public worship and other gatherings, following the guideline of the CDC,” Rev. Seyun Hwang said. “We also ask community activities such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Girl Scouts to cease to gather at our church facilities.

     “Until the White House makes a positive recommendation on public gathering, we will continue this measure.”

     Virtual gatherings will be available to church members, “using YouTube, Facebook, and Zoom,” Rev. Hwang said. “We believe that we practice not social distance but physical distance. We will continue social connection as the body of Christ.”

     At Beaverdam Original Free Will Baptist leaders plan to use Facebook (here) to livestream Sunday’s 11 a.m. service, and a dial-in method so those without Internet or Facebook access to listen in. To dial in call 844-844-0414. The Access Code is 172850, followed by the # sign.

     The church hopes to post the Facebook Live service here Sunday afternoon.

     “We want to stay in touch and continue to spend time worshiping the Lord, even though we can’t be together in person. Please let us know if we can be of assistance to you,” a post on the church Facebook page said. “We love you!”

CRHS/Essential visitor policy

     An essential visitor policy will go into effect at Columbus Regional Healthcare Sunday, a day after a similar policy was put in place at McLeod Healthcare facilities including McLeod Loris and McLeod Seacoast hospitals.

     Patient visitors at CRHS, a news release said, “will be permitted only in the following limited circumstances:

  • Patients who are at the end of life
  • Minor patients who are under the age of 18
  • Patients who are having a baby
  • Patients in need of a healthcare decision maker

     “In these limited circumstances, visitors must be an immediate family member who is 18 or older and has no fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Visitation hours are limited to 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.

     “Columbus Regional recognizes that interactions with family and friends can be a helpful part of the healing process. Patients and families are strongly encouraged to utilize other forms of support for their loved ones in the hospital, such as phone calls and video chat.

     “This is a rapidly evolving situation and Columbus Regional Healthcare System continues to monitor and respond to COVID-19. The safety of our patient, teammates, and our community is the top priority. This temporary restriction on visitors follows local, state, and national guidelines and best practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Triage: “As Columbus Regional continues to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 in our community, the emergency room has developed a higher level of medical screening and triage for patients requiring emergency care.

     The white tent outside of the emergency department IS NOT A COVID-19 TESTING SITE. Should it be needed, it will be used to create more space for the current emergency department and emergency department services.

     “These changes may be difficult or inconvenient for patient and their loved ones. However, these changes are to ensure we are doing everything we can as a system to keep our patients, their families, our teammates, and our community safe and to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

     “This is a rapidly developing situation, and Columbus Regional will continue to respond accordingly. Please continue monitoring our website here and our Facebook page here for the most recent updates.

HGTC postpones commencement

     Commencement and Pinning Ceremonies have been postponed at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, keeping Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive order on large gatherings. Further plans will be announced later.

     All College sponsored and Student Engagement events are also cancelled including the Honors Garden Party, Professional Development activities, and more.

     HGTC will complete the spring semester with academic courses being delivered in an online format.

     HGTC is awaiting the Governor’s approval as to how the College can conduct small group instruction through labs, clinicals, and internships.

     “We will continue to monitor this ever-changing situation and keep you apprised of the latest developments and decisions that may impact the College,” HGTC President Dr. Marilyn M. Fore said in an email to all college employees. “Please know that your health and safety are at the top of my mind. My deepest thanks to all staff, faculty, and Cabinet members for their efforts in ensuring the continuity of operations and in keeping our community safe.”

     HGTC employees are encouraged to continue checking HGTC email, the HGTC Coronavirus Advisory Page, and the College’s social media channels daily for any future updates.

Child care, DMV orders

     School closings and a critical need for child care for providers of health care and other essential services prompted Gov. Roy Cooper to waive restrictions to increase access to caregivers to provide flexible child care and elder care during the coronavirus emergency.

     “The Order provides flexibility to local health departments working to adapt to the increased need for their resources,” a news release from the governor’s office said.

     “Additionally, it provides for ways for Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices to enact social distancing protections, and waives some registration requirements to ensure resources can be delivered by truck throughout the state,’” the news release said.

     “‘Doctors, nurses, first responders and other critical personnel need to know their children are safe so they can continue to respond during this time of crisis,” said Governor Cooper. “And we’re loosening trucking requirements so important medicine and equipment can get quickly to the people in all 100 counties that need it.’”

     “The Order provides for the following provisions:

  • Improve access to safe, flexible child care for first responders, emergency personnel, food preparers and others;
  • Transfer authority to local health departments to be more flexible with mandates during the crisis, so they can prioritize the most needed services;
  • Lifts some restrictions so that volunteers and other caregivers may care for children and elders during the crisis.

     “The transportation waiver includes provisions to:

  • Allow DMV offices to ensure appropriate social distancing including requiring appointments and making sure offices have enough space for DMV customers;
  • Postpone DMV hearings that can reasonably be delayed during the crisis response;
  • Offers clarity around regulations so that critical supplies can get where they are needed throughout the state;
  • Waive Commercial Driver’s License requirements to ensure school buses can be utilized in responding to the crisis.
  • The North Carolina Council of State concurred with the order Friday. The full order is available here.
  • Make sure the information you are getting about COVID-19 is coming directly from reliable sources like the CDC and NCDHHS.

     For details visit the CDC’s website at here and NCDHHS’ website at here, which includes daily updates on positive COVID-19 test results in North Carolina.

Coronavirus fraud

     Fraud doesn’t take a holiday in a national crisis, a fact federal prosecutors are keeping in mind in light of the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis.

     U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. in the Eastern District of North Carolina is urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by sending an e-mail todisaster@leo.gov.

     In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes.

     “As our health care professionals and first responders work tirelessly to defeat COVID-19, we can be certain that criminals will attempt to profit from the fears of the public and will take advantage of this dangerous pandemic for their personal gain,” a news release from US Attorney Higdon said. “The Department of Justice is committed to detecting, investigating, and aggressively prosecuting those who commit this wrongdoing.

     “As we fight to address COVID-19 related fraud that is unfortunately emerging across the country – we want to raise awareness and forewarn those who might otherwise fall victim to these scams.”

     Some examples of these schemes include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

     In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities. The Eastern District of North Carolina’s Fraud Coordinator is Assistant United States Attorney Ethan Ontjes.

     The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes. The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.

     To find more about Department of Justice resources and information visit here.

     Look for continuing coverage on local impacts from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak here and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.