Positive tests for the Covid-19 virus have taken place at the Highland Rim Terrace Apartments in Portland, where two residents who lived there have died in the past two weeks and three residents altogether have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mayor Mike Callis, in his briefings to citizens on the city’s website, gave the update Saturday of the positive tests and the situation at Highland Rim Terrace Apartments. The mayor stated that the two Highland Rim Terrace residents who died suffered from “underlying health issues.”
The Portland Leader contacted the director of the Highland Rim Terrace Apartments, but he told the newspaper that state officials would not allow him to comment on the situation. Calls and efforts to reach county and state health officials for comment by The Leader were unsuccessful.
Highland Rim Terrace Apartments is a HUD-residential facility for elderly residents who meet a certain age and income requirement to live there. The facility has been placed on lockdown in the wake of the positive coronavirus tests.
“I talked to the director (Saturday) morning, and it appears they have at least three confirmed Covid-19 tests there, and also had a couple of residents pass away in the last week — I think one just last night. He has one resident that he has in the hospital now that is testing positive,” Callis said in his posted update. “He said both of the residents that passed away both had underlying health issues. But they have locked the building down, and the health department told them that nobody can come in or out right now. Please pray for them.
“It’s a difficult situation. Even pray for the director. He’s living there, sleeping in his office. They’re doing their best to handle what’s going on. It’s a difficult situation there and it just highlights how difficult this can be for folks who are older and have underlying health issues. I don’t know all the details. It’s difficult to get some of that out of the health department with the HIPPA laws and some of those things. I just want you to know they’re working on that situation there. We hope to hear more about that as we move forward.”
Callis offered his condolences to the residents at the apartment complex and their families in a Sunday afternoon update.
“Our hearts are breaking for our friends at Highland Rim Terrace here in our community. It just highlights the devastating effects that this virus can have. It spreads quickly. It’s a lot more contagious than the normal flu,” Callis said.
On Sunday, Sumner County issued a shelter in place directive for residents of the county, which limits people to only going out for essential matters.
Callis said that as of Friday, 10 people in Portland via an unofficial count, had the coronavirus.
“We’re trying to get the numbers for individual cities. That’s really difficult with a lot of barriers when you’re dealing with HIPAA. We have an unofficial number of about 10 cases for Portland, Tennessee. We’re working to better identify that. So bear with us as we continue. I’m asking the health department every day how to get better information,” Callis said.
On Saturday, the number of Covid-19 cases in Sumner County was at 82, according to numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health. The mayor indicated that one city employee as of Friday had had a positive test for the virus. He added that the city is working to take the necessary steps to keep its employees safe, even in the wake of social distancing recommendations and with safety precautions.
“So far the City of Portland, as far as our employees go, we’ve had one test positive. We’ve quarantined a few and had some come back to work,” Callis said. “percentage wise, we expect to have some positives as well. We’re doing our best to keep all the employees separated as much as we can. You can imagine with some of the jobs, it’s almost hard to do.
“When you think about your first responders, or those who are operating a water plant, a sewer plant or fixing a water line break, or something of that nature. It takes people working in close proximity. We’ve done our best to limit people riding in a vehicle. If any way possible, they can multiple vehicles to the same site. We’re fever checking every day and rotating multiple employees in and out. We’re sending them home and they’re in ready to respond mode, which is what we’ve phrased it. They’re being paid to wait, and if we need to, we’ll give them a call and they’ll come back in. My goal is to make sure that no city employee goes unpaid during this time. That’s our goal, and hopefully, this won’t last too long.”
The mayor added that the city, which issued its first state of emergency on March 23, would continue that state of emergency again on March 30. The order has to be renewed every seven days for as long as it is needed.
“Our plan is to re-up the state of emergency plan Monday for the City of Portland. By law, you have to do that every seven days, and we’ll be doing that Monday,” he said Saturday. “We issued our first one this past Monday.”
The state of emergency, according to Callis, “allows the mayor to suspend policies and procedures as needed to ensure that the essential function of the city is carried out, such as scheduling personnel or making emergency purchases.”
Callis wanted to reassure citizens that the local hospitals in the area have beds and space available in the event of a worst-case scenario evolving with the coronavirus.
“They came (Friday) and surveyed the Portland Hospital, and if they needed the space in an emergency scenario, they could do up to 60 beds at Portland. That’s good news for us to hear those things,” the mayor said. “In a push-comes-to-shove scenario in Hendersonville, they could do up to 216 beds there. Their normal bed count is 126 that they kind of operate on. Right now, they are only using 75 of those. At Sumner (Regional), their normal beds run about 125 on up to 325 and a worst-case scenario they could have beds sitting in the hallway.”
Also in Springfield, as a portion of Portland is in Robertson County, Callis said the hospital there is also equipped with extra beds if needed.
“Northcrest Hospital, they said they could hold up to 120 beds. Currently, they’re still operating at normal percentage rates, which means they are operating at about 45 beds,” he said.
The mayor urged residents to stay at home whenever possible during his pandemic.
“We just encourage you to do what you’ve been doing. Stay home. Only leave if it’s essential. Only get out if you have to. Let’s stay out of big groups. Let’s keep our gatherings very, very small, less than 10 people,” Callis said. “Just be very self-aware when you get out and go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy.”