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Richland County issues emergency declaration to deal with coronavirus

As of the most recent update from DHEC, there were no known coronavirus cases in Richland County.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County has passed an emergency declaration it says will help them better deal with and respond to the coronavirus. 

RELATED: Live updates: Coronavirus in South Carolina

Richland County Council Chair Paul Livingston signed the declaration and announced the decision at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Livingston said the move allows the county to cut through the "red tape" and typical approval process for decision-making, including making funds available and and other resources, transfer personnel or functions to address the crisis and suspend regulations that would hinder a prompt response.

"We need to make quick, rapid decision to ensure the safety of our citizens," Livingston said. 

"It's an aggressive move," said Vice-Chair Dalhi Myers. "The threat is real." 

She added the news conference would be the last gathering in one place for some time of that many members of the county government.

In addition to the declaration, the county updated how services have been adjusted for some key areas while the situation unfolds:

MEDICAL: 

The county has been in contact with Prisma Health for medical support and has been in talking to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control throughout the emergency.

GENERAL QUESTIONS:

People can call the county's ombudsman's office at 803-929-6000 for general questions Monday-Friday.

UTILITIES: 

People can call 803.576.2094 with questions about their utilities.

The county is taking payment by drive-thru and online.

Termination on water and sewer services is suspended until further notice.

Water is safe to drink, and the county is making sure the workers follow safety protocols. 

Leak repair will continue but on a prioritized basis and they will limit employee to employee contact with customers.

TRASH/ROAD SERVICES:

Waste management services will continue as normal.

Road maintenance including street lights and even tree pruning will still happen.

EMS/AMBULANCE:

EMS will only respond to emergency calls and that may be delayed because of new safety protocols. 911 callers may be asked additional questions before they can be approached by EMS.

SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: 

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said there will be 100 extra deputies on patrol. He said there have already been efforts to scam the elderly by criminals. 

He promised that his department will step up their efforts. "The last thing they public needs to worry about is crime," he said. "We're going to make sure our citizens feel safe.'

COUNTY JAIL: 

There is limited visitation and all visitation will have no physical contact. There is a video visitation service and those devices involved will be cleaned after every use.

Each person brought to the jail will be screened for COVID-19. 

They also have two empty units set up for inmates who may test positive

TAX BILLS:

The county is taking payments online, by mail, and by fax.

ANIMAL SERVICES: 

The county will still respond to safety issues but minor nuisances, including barking dogs, won't get a response.

As of the most recent update from DHEC, there were no known coronavirus cases in Richland County. However, there are multiple cases in Kershaw County, which borders Richland, as well in Lexington County, which is just across the river.  Lexington County was also where the one death reported so far took place.

RELATED: Trump wants checks to public 'now' in virus response, says treasury secretary

Monday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin announced a state of emergency, with a corresponding resolution that was set to be approved by city council Tuesday. It would allow the city to impose restrictions on bars and restaurants opening and potentially issue a curfew. 

What is the Coronavirus? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as pneumonia. DHEC is working with CDC to identify all those who might have been in contact with these individuals. These people will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.

People can help to prevent the spread of the virus in the following ways:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. And, always wash your hands with soap and water if they are visibly dirty.
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • stay home when you’re sick.
  • cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue and put it in the trash immediately.
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • get the influenza vaccine.

For general questions about COVID-19 residents should visit the DHEC website at scdhec.gov/COVID19 or the CDC website here.

For residents concerned about their own personal health or are showing symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, please call your personal doctor or healthcare provider. DHEC has launched its Care Line. If residents have general questions about COVID-19, the DHEC Care Line is here to help. Call 1-855-472-3432. Staff are answering calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call volume has been high. Callers are urged to be patient if they receive a busy signal and try their call at a later time.