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County declares public health emergency

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Public facilities, including parks and golf course, restricted

  • County declares public health emergency
    Emergency Management Director and Jones County Fire Chief Don Graham speaks to county commissioners at their March 20 called meeting. DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH/Staff

Jones County Commissioners followed the lead of state and national officials with a declaration of a public health emergency that went into effect March 23.

Commissioners had a called meeting March 20 to consider their next steps to protect citizens of Jones County during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the conclusion of the meeting, board members in attendance voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, which gives the board the authority to activate Jones County’s Pandemic Plan if needed and to implement emergency procedures included in county code if needed.

The first part of that process was the restriction of public access to county buildings and properties.

All board members were present at the called meeting with the exception of Commissioner Daylon Martin.

Chairman Chris Weidner called the meeting to order, and County Administrator Jason Rizner updated the board with the results of several Webex videoconference meetings with county department heads.

Rizner said the 2020 COVID-19 Operations Plan draft has two parts. The first restricts public access to county buildings and properties and the second would be a complete shut down.

The restricted plan includes alternate capabilities that lists alternate ways county services including permits and payments can be processed, such as online, phone, dropboxes and through the mail.

Board members discussed each county department and how the restricted access would work in each. At first it appeared that Jonesco Golf Course would remain open, but before the meeting concluded, the decision was made that it would also be closed to the public.

Animal Control Services will be responding in person to emergency situations only as will the county’s Code Enforcement Officer.

All activities at Jones County’s recreation complexes are suspended, and commissioners agreed the county would follow the lead of the school system for when the activities would restart.

County parks are also closed. The Jones County Public Library was closed last week.

The lobby of the water department is closed to the public, but payments can be made online or placed in drop boxes at each office. Commissioners made A the decision at their previous meeting that no one’s water would be Ma Jo disconnected during the outbreak.

The tax commissioner’s office can take payments online, and tag renewals will continue through the mail. The Senior Center is closed and 4H programs suspended. He

The Courthouse building is included in the restricted access decision and the court system is operating under a declaration by Georgia Supreme Court Judge Harold Melton March 14, of a statewide Serving judicial emergency for 30 days stating the courts would only be conducting essential court functions.

Emergency Management Director and Jones County Fire Chief told the board members that emergency calls had been reduced by half. He said he goes to local stores each morning to check on supplies.

Graham announced that COVID-19 testing would begin in Jones County next week. He said the tests would be administered only with a doctor’s order.

“This is the first time we have dealt with anything like this,” he said. “The Swine Flu had deaths but not a big impact on the public.”

The director said he is in constant contact with other EMA directors in the state.

Commissioner Sam Kitchens said it is important for the board to get out the right message.

“There’s a fine line between telling people what they should do and telling them what they can do,” he said.

Kitchens said Jones County needs to be ready to follow instructions from the state. He said the county does not want 20 – 30 employees to be together even in department meetings.

“That defeats the purpose,” the commissioner said. “We have an obligation whether moral or legal to push this message.”

He said the number of confirmed cases doubled in 24 hours and he did not believe it was close to getting to the other side. The commissioner added that he would like to see every public interaction limited.

“I’m not willing to an sacrifice Childs any of my loved ones’ health for anybody’s convenience. rket It’s not President, hard to react es County when the numbers are doubling everyday,” he said.

Graham said two other counties had also declared public health emergencies. He said all Jones County fire stations are restricted to members only.

Kitchens said he was in favor of closing the doors of county buildings to the public. Commissioners Jonathan Pitts and Tommy Robinson and the chairman agreed.

Board members also agreed that county employees needed to be paid if they could not work due to COVID-19 outbreak. Following a lengthy discussion about the different ways that would be achieved, it was agreed that employees would use comp time and sick leave when possible.

Pitts proposed meetings on a weekly basis between Weidner and Gray Mayor Ed Barbee to assess the continuing situation.

Kitchens said he would like to see triggers put in place for the county to automatically go to the emergency response, once a case of COVID-19 is identified in Jones County.

Pitts stated that he would like to make sure county employees are well when they come to work and Kitchens said a protocol should be put in place for employees not able to work.

At the direction of County Attorney Ashley Brodie, the commissioners unanimously approved the Declaration of Public Health Emergency, and a resolution on behalf of the Jones County Tax Commissioner waiving penalties and interest for taxpayers who fail to make timely payments on taxes due to the outbreak.

Board members also adopted a policy of conditions involving the pandemic from the ACCG.

The only exception to the public access declaration was the convenience centers that will remain open.

Also at Brodie’s suggestion, the commissioners agreed to set an example by conducting their April 7 meeting via conference call. An audio of the meeting will be accessible via the county’s website.