New Albany officials considering much stronger restrictions to mitigate COVID-19 spread
City officials may be close to ordering a shelter-in-place or quarantine for New Albany, because they feel many people are still not taking the situation seriously enough.
“We have people who don’t take it that seriously,” Mayor Tim Kent said. “But it’s a matter of life or death. It’s a pandemic already. I want to stress how serious it is and people should take it seriously.”
Kent did not say what might be included in such an order but in other cities it has allowed people to leave home only to go to designated essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
Mayor fears waiting long to restrict movement could be a mistake
The mayor said officials are involved in many meetings and the situation is changing from day to day. “As for upcoming events, as far as the city, it’s going to be to shut down the city and shut down any travel and have the police enforce this,” Kent said. “We don’t want to get to that but if everybody doesn’t start doing their part I’m afraid that might be coming down the road pretty soon.”
Kent made the comments during an meeting Monday afternoon, March 23, that included Police Chief Robertson, Dr. Brad Scott, a New Albany physician, and School Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans.
“All we are asking is for people to do their part, and if you will do your part and I will do my part and everybody thinks like that, we will start to flatten this curve,” he said.
All repeatedly stressed the importance of staying at home to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
“I can’t tell you how important that (staying at home) is,” Kent said. He added that waiting even two more days could mean the difference in getting through this crisis. “That’s two days too late and a lot of people are going to get infected. They already have been, but we are talking about hours and days that might help turning this curve.”
City board may meet Wednesday to consider tighter restrictions
Mayor Kent said the board of aldermen would probably meet Wednesday (March 25) and clarified, “At this point we haven’t mandated a shutdown, but unless people start doing their part that might be coming, and you’ll be in home only unless going for medical treatment or groceries.”
Kent said food seems to be the source of the biggest problem. “Speaking of grocery stores, we feel like that is a problem in this city and country. We have so many people in them that there’s no way to practice social distancing,” he said. “What we are asking is, first of all, only get the items that are necessary. Do not stock up on food because you are going to have some elderly person come in to buy something and the shelves are empty. It may be life or death to them.”
“I was told a couple of weeks ago about this community that if you ask them, they will do it,” Kent said. “So that’s what we’re depending on. If you as a citizen of this city or community follow the guidelines, that’s what we’re doing.”
The mayor reiterated the need to keep groups at 10 or less, and preferably much fewer, with people being at least six feet apart.
“I have talked to a lot of people who think this is not serious, but I can tell you it is very serious. It’s the most serious thing in my lifetime we have faced,” the mayor said.
Police chief hopes enforcement will not need to be “heavy handed”
Police Chief Chris Robertson said his department is prepared to enforce a shutdown, but hopes it will not be necessary.
Robertson said, “If there is a point where the mayor and board decide there is a need to shelter in place we are going to try to handle it the best we can. It’s not going to be a heavy-handed type thing,” the chief said. “It’s basically us reaching out to the public and explaining, maybe in a one-on-one kind of scenario, the importance of our trying to stay at a social distancing type thing and keep everybody healthy.”
“It’s imperative that everyone in the community know we are all in this together and make the best of a bad situation,” he said. “There is no shortage as far as the supply lines,” he said. “There is plenty of food.”
He added that there is no way we can all become “preppers” overnight, rushing to stores to buy as much as we can possibly afford. “That’s not being real helpful right now. The stores will be open and we are going to try to maintain order so people can get things they need in a timely manner. We’re going to make that a priority,” the chief said.
Robertson said his department is at 100 percent and will be patrolling more but asks people’s cooperation. “There’s going to be the same needs we always have. There’s still going to be criminal activity, still going to be things we have to attend to,” he said, but asked the public to use common sense if they need the police. Officers are getting personal protection equipment, but Robertson asked the public to “Try to meet them halfway, come outside. Don’t make them come in the house, stay six feet away,” he said.
Concerning staying at home and social distancing, Robertson said he understands this can be a particular problem for young people.
“I understand school is not in session and our youth don’t have a lot to do and they get cooped up and I understand how that goes,” he said. “But we’re not going to allow any one large group to gather whether it be youth or anyone else…It’s just not safe. The likelihood of their surviving is pretty high, but they all have relatives that I realize they’re just not thinking of and not really old enough to understand.”
“We’re not necessarily trying to be the bad guys, but this is common sense,” he said.
“We’re all in this together,” Robertson said, “and we must cooperate.”
Robertson also spoke on behalf of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Curt Clayton, who could not be present.
The police chief said the main concern is still simple enough: to follow CDC guidelines. Remember social distancing. There is plenty of food available. Think of your neighbor and the situation he may be in, he said. Robertson added that Clayton is beginning to get more information concerning unemployment and small business assistance and is publicizing that on NEMiss.news and the official web sites.
Personal protection equipment is being received and is going to first responders and medical staff first. This is so they have what they need to combat this the best they can, he said.
Lastly, Robertson said on behalf of Clayton, “If there is any official state shelter order, don’t rely on Facebook…This will come from the state or emergency management and will be pushed out locally by the EMS director. The EMS director is the local authority. If something like that ever happened he would push it out to local media first.”
Dr. Brad Scott describes local medical situation as “in decent shape”
Dr. Brad Scott from Creekmore Clinic said the local medical situation is in “decent shape,” but still could be overwhelmed if we don’t contain the virus spread. “This is very serious. Time is wasting,” he said. “We ask that you stay at home unless you have a medical emergency. Limit office visits as much as possible.” Scott said that some local clinics have telemedicine capabilities, so people should check into that possibility. Scott said medical professionals are relying on the state health department and CDC as their main sources of information.
Doctor fears crisis could “overwhelm” local medical facilities
“If you are sick, call your health provider for instruction,” he said. “If you come to the clinic, wear a face mask.” Also, cover your coughs and wash your hands thoroughly, he added.
Scott said his clinic is taking the additional measure of having patients triaged ahead of time and wait in their vehicles until called.
He reminded everyone that estimates say the country may need about 900,000 ventilators, but has only about 200,000. Based on national figures on risk of exposure and possibility of getting a critical illness, Scott calculated that “In Union County we have six ventilators for essentially 100 patients. From those numbers you can tell it will overwhelm the medical system.” This is in addition to people who have chronic medical problems such as chronic heart disease or chronic lung disease already needing those services.
Scott also reiterated the importance of “flattening the curve,” or using precautions to reduce the potential number of cases at any one time. Spreading cases out over time reduces the degree of overload placed on medical resources.
“We do not have a shelter-in-place order, but as medical professionals we ask you to stay home,” he said. “We’re in decent shape here at our facility, but there is a need for masks, gowns and all the protection equipment. We certainly are stretching our limits with these resources.”
Scott said the CDC has a good online tool for evaluating symptoms, as well as information on what to do if you are forced to stay at home or if you have a family member who has tested positive or who has been exposed.
He added that some clinics in New Albany are testing for the coronavirus, but that patients still have to meet certain criteria before being given the test. The nearest drive-through testing is in Tupelo.
City school superintendent says online instruction is going well
City school superintendent Dr. Lance Evans reported that the district’s online instruction is going well. “Our virtual school is up and operating at 100 percent capacity,” he said. He added that students seem to actually enjoy it because it affords a sense of normalcy and attendance has been good, 100 percent in some classes. He added it is the school’s responsibility now to help take care of students’ social as well as educational needs, and even nutritional needs.
More specific information is available on the school district web site.
“At this point in time there is no indication any school in the State of Mississippi will be closed until the end of the year,” Evans said. Now he expects classes to resume after April 17, the end of the extended break set by the state. “We are operating on the assumption we will be back in school after that date.”
Commenting on the virtual classes being offered, he said, “New Albany is one of the few districts in the state providing this service.” Even pre-kindergarten students are receiving instruction, he said.
Evans stressed the importance of every student’s being involved, because he or she otherwise will be behind when classes resume and there will be only a short time before the end of the session.
Food available at middle school every morning
A food handout program is being provided at the middle school every morning. It does not require people to get out of their vehicles. Evans added that, thanks to the support of about 20 area churches, the program will also provide weekend take-home bags. “All safety measures are being observed as required by the CDC, because it is very important that we not spread the disease to anyone else. All the people preparing the food are certified. The food is in a sterile environment as it is being done,” he said. “And as much as possible we rely on prepackaged food.”
The food can be picked up from 8:30 to 10:30 and includes a breakfast and a lunch. The weekend bags will have breakfast and lunch for Saturday and Sunday as well.
Asked whether New Albany will be able to hold traditional graduation ceremonies, Evans responded, “That is the million-dollar question.” He said he realizes the tremendous burden this places on seniors and their parents, as well as that they are missing important parts of their senior year. “No one plans for their senior year to be the way this one is unfolding,” he said.
He did say, “If we are allowed to do it, we will do everything in our power to insure that we have a traditional graduation ceremony,” although he noted it might not look exactly like those in the past, depending on how quickly people can get through this crisis. “It is very, very important. They deserve that,” he said.
Before concluding, Evans added, “The expectation is that when school resumes students will be where they left off,” although he realizes that there will be some things to catch up on before moving forward.
Mayor: high school graduation “depends on you”
In a question period, Mayor Kent addressed the graduation issue more bluntly. “You know it depends on you,” he said. “It depends on the people in this town and this community, if they follow the guidelines or not. The quicker they follow the guidelines the quicker we can get over this.”
“If you have a senior graduating and see someone not following the guidelines, remind them in a friendly way,” he said.
“What we’re asking is for is the community to do their own self guidelines,” he said. However, based on people’s refusal to stay home, Kent said such an order could be forthcoming. “It could be by tomorrow,” he said.CDC, coronavirus, New Albany, shelter in place, Union County, virtual classes