Nowhere in the West Piedmont Health District has the pandemic proven deadlier than in Patrick County.
Now a rescue squad member has succumbed to COVID-19, and half her squad have tested positive for the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
Janice Plaster Turner, 67, of Stuart died Sept. 1 at Novant Health Forsyth Medial Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., because of COVID-19.
She was a lifetime member of the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad and had held every position in the organization.
Patrick County was one of the last counties in Virginia to have a positive test for the virus, but as of Tuesday the Virginia Department of Health reported 271 cases, with 51 hospitalizations and 24 deaths, the most of any municipality in the health district.
The county’s per capita rates of 1533.4 cases per 100,000 residents and 135.8 per 100K for deaths are among the highest in the state.
The Jeb Stuart Rescue squad helps to transport patients at Hill Valley Healthcare in Stuart by ambulance to the hospital when needed.
Hill Valley operates The Landmark Center and Blue Ridge Therapy Connection, is a 160-bed nursing home facility that had a serious outbreak in July that eventually involved 42 of its residents and 13 staff members.
“We had a total of nine [rescue members] that ended up with it [COVID-19] with additional family members as well,” members of Jeb Stuart responded by text on the rescue squad’s official Facebook page.
Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad Capt. Derek Wagner sent a notice to the community the rescue squad served asking residents to follow the CDC guidelines after he had tested positive on Aug. 6.
On Aug. 28, a post on Facebook form the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad brought attention to Turner’s plight.
“Please join us in keeping our former Captain and active member Janice Turner in your thoughts and prayers as she continues to battle COVID-19,” members wrote.
Four days later, Turner had died.
“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of our beloved member and former Captain, Janice Turner,” members wrote. “Janice joined the department in Aug. 2008 and has been a dedicated [and] active member since then.”
Despite the COVID-19 protocols that EMS units employ, nothing is 100% effective.
Procedures in place for all rescue squads across the region include extra cleaning of the equipment in the ambulance, showers required by personnel when they return to the station after a COVID-19 transport, clothes are washed and disinfectants are applied.
Turner served in many line officer positions over the years and was named the Line Officer of the Year in 2014. She was currently serving as president of the Patrick County Fire and Rescue Association.
Not only was she a member of the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad, but Turner was also a school bus driver for Patrick County Schools and a substitute teacher for Henry County Schools.
According to Turner’s obituary, she was laid to rest in the Stella Christian Church Cemetery in Patrick County.
Memorials may be made to the Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad c/o Betty Biggs, P.O. Box 340 Patrick Springs, 24133 or the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County, 132 Joseph Martin Highway in Martinsville, 24112.
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt