New Albany Mayor Tim Kent was scheduled to meet with city department heads Friday morning to discuss a precautionary plan concerning the coronavirus.
The mayor expressed particular concern about spread of the coronavirus in the public schools. Public school students in both New Albany and Union County schools are on spring break this week, but are scheduled to be back in classes on Monday, March 16th.
However, both the city and county school superintendents are out of the country on cruises and only occasionally in cell phone contact.
Kent said he had talked with city superintendent Lance Evans, who said they were monitoring the situation and staying in contact as much as possible with the CDC and Mississippi State Department of Education. Local schools are supposed to confer with the state concerning any school closings. Any school days lost must, by law, be made up unless the governor or president declares an emergency.
“We don’t know where all these students and teachers have been over spring break,” Kent said. “It’s impossible now to say whether any of them will bring back infection.”
Kent says he hopes local schools will extend the spring break period as colleges are doing, but said no decision has been made.
“People may think we are making too much of this, but I would rather be proactive than reactive after it gets here,” Kent said.
“I have been working with the hospital, CDC and health department, but things with the hospital are changing daily,” he said. “It probably will be different tomorrow.”
One concern is the recommendation to avoid groups of over 200, Kent said.
“I am thinking about churches in particular,” he said. “Our congregation alone can be 500.”
He has heard nothing about cancelling services, but several local churches do have services broadcast so they can be seen at home.
The other large-crowd concern for the city is activities at BNA Bank Park. “We’re still thinking about that,” he said, although he acknowledged that major college and professional sports events have been cancelled, or will be held without spectators.
The Friday discussion was to be mostly about protecting city employees.
“Personal contact” has been defined in some warnings as spending as much as 10 minutes within six feet of another person and Kent said most departments can keep their employees separated that much at their workplaces.
Board meetings would present a problem, but may be able to be held through conference calls with some public access, he said.
Kent has ordered protective clothing for solid waste workers, since that could be a cause of infection. They may require members of the public to pay utility bills at the drive-through window only to reduce contact at that office.
The quarantine period seems to be two weeks, he said, and that may help determine the city’s actions.
One piece of good news came concerning testing for the coronavirus. Initially, the tests had to be done in Atlanta, but Kent said he has learned testing can be done now in Jackson, meaning results can be back in half a day.
The mayor reminded people that influenza remains a serious health threat and should not be ignored, but the death rate for COVID-19 is several times higher.
Kent said a formal letter concerning COVID-19 precautions and preparations from the city should be ready for release by sometime Friday.city government, New Albany, Union County, virus plan