Friday afternoon New Albany Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lance Evans announced that school officials met and decided that it will be in the best interest of students to close school March 15-20 and all school events and practices will be suspended until March 23 at least. They plan to continue meeting and issue a new statement March 17 on the school’s social media account.
Union County Superintendent Ken Basil made a similar announcement, extending spring break through March 16-20 with school activities suspended until March 23.
Both cited the health and safety of students and staff as well as President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.
New Albany Mayor Tim Kent met with department heads Friday morning to establish more precautionary measures for city employees in light of the spreading COVID-19 virus.
The Mississippi Department of Health reported Friday that three presumptive cases of the virus had been reported in Forest County. It was not clear whether they were connected and officials were investigating that.
“We’re going to have a notice for all departments to place on their doors and for all employees,”Kent said. The notice, to be prepared by city attorney Regan Russell, was to help explain the city’s position and appears at the end of this story.
Here are specific precautionary measures:
- Municipal court – will continue as is unless there is an increase in infection
- Police department – it will be mandatory for officers to wear rubber gloves and regularly use hand sanitizer (officers do wear leather gloves at times and this will supersede that)
- Fire department – the biggest concern was for Emergency Medical Responders who respond to all calls. They now will only respond to likely stroke and heart attack calls. Also, the fire department living quarters will be closed to all outside visitors.
- Park department – in addition to cancelling the softball tournament this weekend, the Park Along the River will be closed until further notice. That is because the playground equipment is seen as a possible source of contagion. People may still use the Tanglefoot Trail or Tallahatchie Trails for walking.
- Street department – workers, particularly on the garbage trucks, will wear protective disposable Tyvek suits and rubber gloves, and will be required to use hand sanitizer every hour.
- Light, gas and water department – No walk-in customers will be allowed for the time being. Bill payment can be done at the drive-up window or overnight and people can call about hookups or other business. In the office the staff can be separated and, if necessary, thinned out with employees working at alternating times. Crews will report directly to work sites.
- City Hall – employees are already spaced out enough to meet social distancing requirements. Anyone with business will be asked to call rather than come in and a notice will be placed on the door. The door won’t be locked unless the situation worsens.
“We’re going to meet once a week and re-evaluate everything every two weeks,”Mayor Kent said. “This is step one of three steps. We will go to step two, which is more restrictive, if necessary.”
He reiterated that the situation is changing on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, particularly as far as hospitals are involved.
Kent said he is still concerned about churches and schools in particular.
“The Mississippi Health Department said to me anything over 200 (should be avoided),”he said.
“I wish they would keep the schools closed two or three more days,”he added, but that is not his decision. New Albany school superintendent Dr. Lance Evans issued a statement saying they were monitoring the situation and conferring with health and education officials. They said any changes would be posted on social media over the weekend.
Both superintendents were out of the country on spring break cruises this week. State institutes of higher learning have extended their spring break period by a week and several are arranging to have classes available by way of the internet.
Kent said his only other recommendation would be for everyone to follow the common sense advice health officials are giving. That especially includes good hand-washing and hygiene and social distancing.
Events and public buildings changes:
City officials cancelled a softball tournament scheduled for Saturday at BNA Bank Park.
A series of activities scheduled for Saturday, March 21, will still be held, except for a performance of “Hee Haw.”
“They are all outside and should be fine,”Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said. The “Hee Haw”performance was being sponsored by the Tallahatchie River Players and is usually a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. It may be rescheduled.
The Pi Day activities, scheduled for the Union County Heritage Museum Saturday, March 14, have been cancelled but museum officials hope to reschedule them.
Sheriff Jimmy Edwards said he had conferred with the jail administrator and school resource officers and because of the expected influx of students returning from spring break.
“You don’t know where they have been or what they are bringing back,”he said, “so we have decided to end jail visitation until the end of the month.”
Edwards said they would take a look at the policy later. He added that they have placed a table in the lobby of the law enforcement center with hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes for people to use.
Here is the public notice to be placed on doors to city buildings:
Public Notice – March 13, 2020
The City of New Albany and its officials are monitoring events associated with the corona virus disease, and we remain fully committed to providing for the needs of our city and its citizens during this time of uncertainty. Given the challenges and threats presented by a global pandemic, we realize that careful and thoughtful planning are essential to minimizing the impact of this virus on our community. Experience is clearly demonstrating that places that take pro-active steps early fare much better than those caught by surprise and thereby avoid the worst effects of the epidemic.
The City will remain in contact with local and state organizations and agencies, including the Mississippi Department of Health, MEMA, the CDC, Baptist Memorial Hospital, Union County officials, local school officials and law enforcement. And we are fully committed to educating our citizens as to the risks of this virus and the best methods to minimizing those risks, while fully maintaining essential governmental services.
The COVID-19 virus appears to pose minimal threat to the young and healthy, and we encourage our citizens to go about their lives as normally as possible with certain common sense precautions. The economic well-being of our community, its downtown and its vibrant local businesses depend upon your continuing patronage, with common precautions in mind.
However, because of the significant threat the virus poses to our most vulnerable citizens and with a goal of preventing our health care facilities from being overwhelmed by a rapid spread of the virus within the community, we strongly encourage our citizens to avoid leaving the home if you are ill, to self-quarantine if you have been-or believe you may have been-exposed to the virus, to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, to teach your children to do the same, to assist them as may be necessary, to maintain social distance to the degree possible and to look out for the well-being of our neighbors. Further, the City may cancel public community events and access to public places as we deem necessary and beneficial. These steps may prove crucial to the health and well-being of our community and our families. For these reasons we deem it necessary to be proactive.
The challenges presented by this pandemic could prove daunting and may involve difficult temporary personal sacrifices and burdens. If so, we are confident that our common community traits of strength, commitment to the well-being of our families and a strong spiritual foundation will serve us well. This is a challenge which we can and will face with grace and clear resolve, as our country’s forefathers ever have.
The situation is fluid and quickly developing. Notices and advisements from the City and its departments to the public will be posted or linked as they become available. Local schools will also release notices as they deem necessary and appropriate. The City is fully committed to assisting and aiding the schools and the families they serve, as circumstances may require.
For those who desire further information, the Mississippi Department of Health has a MS COVID-19 hotline: 1-877-978-6453. Up to date information and answers to common questions may also be found at the MSDH website, HealthyMS.com/COVID-19. Local notices and links will be posted on VisitNewAlbany.comand other city sites
Mayor Tim Kent
coronavirus, COVID-19, departments, New Albany, precautions, Union County