Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston

Anderson County on Tuesday launched a COVID-19 task force, three hours before Judge Robert Johnston announced the county reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus. 

The local infection is travel-related – in other words, the virus was presumably contracted outside Anderson County.The female patient is in quarantine at home.

The new Anderson County Coronavirus Task Force, consisting of elected leaders, emergency managers, and medical professionals, aims to keep residents informed about the pandemic. It will conduct its first town hall meeting in the next week, Palestine Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press.

Officials have expected Anderson County's first case for days. They continue to recommend rigorous and regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, practicing so-called social distancing of at least six feet, keeping homes clean and disinfected, and remaining in them as much as possible.

A local physician told the Herald-Press Tuesday COVID-19 tests have been taking 12 to 14 days to come back. The physician also said testing equipment had been hard to obtain, though the federal government has loosened criteria recently.

Given spotty testing, however, the physician said Anderson County could have dozens of cases.

Johnston issued an emergency declaration March 19, banning groups of more than 10, but not a stay-at-home order, which would close all non-essential businesses.

City police have broken up several gatherings of more than 10, though no fines have been assessed.

Up until Tuesday, the nearest COVID-19 case to Anderson County was reported in Leon County, 10 miles away.

The announcement of Anderson County's first coronavirus case will almost certainly raise the profile of the new task force.

Both Johnston and Presley are task force members. Other members are Anderson County Emergency Management Coordinator Christina Crockett; Palestine City Manager Leslie Cloer; City Emergency Management Coordinator Melinda Chambers; Roy Finch, chief executive officer of the Palestine Regional Medical Center; Stephanie Walker of NET Health; Dr. Jose Tovar; and Dr. Kenneth Dekay.

 The group has, informally, worked together for several weeks.

 “We want to reassure the public that everyone in the medical community has been working for weeks to be as prepared as possible,” Presley said.

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