By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and other regional leaders are urging citizens to accept that during the COVID-19 health crisis, they are indeed “safer at home.”
Grandy announced an executive order declaring a local state of emergency and the “Safer at Home” directive on Monday, March 30, as local entities such as Hawkins County and Carter County announced the same initiative. The directive is a local state of emergency that says those “living within Washington County are required to stay at their place of residence unless engaged in Essential Activities”, such as for the health for you or a family member, to do work at an essential business, or to obtain necessary services or supplies for you or your family.
“Late last week cases began to turn up where people had contacted the virus and had not traveled,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said. “They had not been in a place where there were a lot of known cases and returned, but had just been working within the community, which indicated that people were contracting the virus from other people in the community.
“That changed the dynamics a little bit on how the health professionals are looking at this and indicated that they were expecting a pretty substantial increase.”
The directive also put restrictions on large gatherings, travel and non-essential business operations.
The executive order was followed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement on Monday of a two-week statewide order urging Tennesseeans to follow the “Safer at Home” directive and continue social distancing.
A local state of emergency executive order can be in effect for up to seven days. Those orders can also be extended by up to one week at a time, but Grandy said he felt the directive might need to be reissued in the coming weeks.
“The health professionals indicate to me that this is not a situation that will be resolved in seven days or even 14 days, but that it’s going to take a little bit of time with everybody cooperating to actually make an impact,” Grandy said. “So while my authority is only for seven days, my expectation is that this will extend for more time than that.”
Other entities are also taking precautions to protect citizens and employees.
The Washington County School System’s central office closed to the public last Thursday after a family member of a central office staff member tested positive for COVID-19, Director of Washington County Schools Bill Flanary said.
“We have been in communication with the health department, completely describing the situation,” Flanary said. “They have described the chances of infection to personnel in this office as very low. Our response has been to send all at-risk personnel home for self-isolation and to restrict the presence of other staff members.”
The central office staff is still fielding phone calls, Flanary said, and the office is still completing finance work and producing student curriculum materials, which are currently located in the bus in the central office parking lot.
Meanwhile, the system’s food service is still operating to provide breakfast and lunches.
“Our number one priority is to continue meal service to children in our community as long as we can,” Grandy said. “I am in awe of our food service workers, our bus drivers, and our volunteer teachers and administrators who are riding the delivery buses throughout the county.
“I am also in awe of our classroom teachers and the incredible way they’ve risen to the challenge of providing instruction via technology. These men and women are creative, innovative professionals. As a 38 year veteran in this school system, I have never been more proud of Washington County Schools.”
To see the school system’s meal service plan, go to www.wcde.org. For more information, call (423) 753-1100 during regular business hours.
As for the Town of Jonesborough, essential services remain open and operating.
“We’ll follow the direction of the governor and if there’s anything the Town of Jonesborough needs to do differently, we’ll look at that at a later date,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said. “What the Town of Jonesborough does is really vital. We’ve got to supply water, we’ve got to have our waste water system working and our public safety areas working. Our senior center is involved with distribution of food to our seniors. Those things we can’t quit doing.”
Town Administrator Bob Browning said Jonesborough is also hoping to assist small businesses while also sending a mailer out to residents urging them to pay attention to the directive.
“The fact there has been some financial assistance of small businesses, we’re trying to make sure everybody knows how to apply for that,” Browning said. “We are working right now on a mailer to send out to our business community. We will definitely get that out this week.
“We’re also looking at the possibility of sending another mailer that may include the governor’s executive order to encourage people to pay attention and take seriously the issue of social distancing and that sort of thing. I think it’s important that we are doing the best we can to communicate with our residents.”
Browning also said the town is looking to do its best to continue services and protect its employees.
“We are obviously providing some essential services,” Browning said. “We have to pay attention as a small town. We don’t have extra employees. So we are taking steps within our own operation to make sure our employees know how important it is not only in what they’re doing at work, but what they’re doing at home in order for us to sustain the services. Things can change pretty quickly with this virus, so we’re doing our best to pay attention to the details from a staff standpoint so that we can continue to operate.
“We hope that the general public understands that and that they are doing what they can to help protect themselves and our employees so we can continue providing the services we’re supposed to.”
Jonesborough has also enacted a helpline to assist Town residents with food needs, emergency transportation, connections to medical information as well as any other assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. You can reach the Jonesborough helpline at (423) 753-4781. More information on the town’s services can be found at https://www.jonesboroughtn.org/.
For more information and updates on the county’s services, go to http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/.