coronavirus update

City employees put up temporary fencing in the Park Tuesday morning after city officials called for its closure due to coronavirus concerns.

Schools, parks close. Events, games, civic meetings and church gatherings canceled.

Local officials are following the lead of federal and state leaders who instituted more precautionary measures over the weekend to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and Georgia, but their message remains the same – be cautious and calm.

While public health officials stress there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pierce County, citizens nationwide have been asked to limit social interaction to contain the spread of the virus.

Perhaps the biggest impact locally came with the decision to cancel school for two weeks.

Pierce County Schools closed yesterday (Tuesday, March 17) and will remain closed through Monday, March 30. Local officials made the decision Sunday and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order Monday night closing all schools statewide over the same time frame. An assessment will be made March 30 whether to resume classes. Spring break will be observed Monday, April 6-Friday, April 10.

All high school sports have been canceled for the time being. The middle school’s spring season has been canceled entirely.

State school superintendent Richard Woods has also suspended state testing for Georgia Milestones and other required testing and attendance related regulations. Pierce County School Nutrition is in the planning process of providing student meals in the county. The  Georgia Department of Education received waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend meal service flexibility, allowing schools to serve students’ meals through USDA-approved meal service options at state-approved sites within the community – similar to the way schools and districts offer student meals during the summer months.

Other changes have occurred throughout the community, causing some residents to panic.

“We’re dealing with folks who’ve lost their minds,” Sheriff Ramsey Bennett told The Times, calling for calm. “If you’re sick stay home. Otherwise wash your hands and carry on with business as usual.”

That’s not to say the Sheriff’s Office isn’t taking extra precautions to limit exposure to the virus. PCSO has modified their inmate intake process at the jail.

“(We want) to be sure nobody enters the jail who could possibly be sick,” Bennett says. “We ask the medical questions immediately upon entry rather than at some point later in the booking process.”

The jail suspended visitation Tuesday for the protection of visitors, Bennett says. There is typically no face to face contact during visitation.

“That would be for protection of the visiting public, not the inmates because nothing is face to face,” Bennett says.

The jail is also suspending outside access such as Bible study groups who meet weekly with inmates for the time being.

Deputies are still working regular shifts, Bennett stresses.

“We’re at work fighting crime and helping people,” he says.

In an effort to follow national and state guidelines for slowing the spread of coronavirus, county officials made the decision Monday to suspend all Pierce County Parks and Recreation activities, including  practices, games, planned tournaments, and any other group activities. The recreation department office will remain open, but citizens are encouraged to call 912-449-4791 prior to visiting the office.

The county has also implemented a zero return to work policy until cleared by a medical professional for any employee who has been away with symptoms similar to COVID-19.

“The more we practice these protective/preventative actions the longer we can keep the virus away from our region,” says County Manager Jason Rubenbauer.

Weapons permitting and renewals via Pierce County Probate Court are suspended, and locals are encouraged to pay taxes and renew vehicle tags online at www.piercegatax.com rather than coming in the office.

Blackshear officials met Monday morning to discuss precautionary measures as well, and made the decision to close the city park and public restrooms for now. City employees will take advantage of the closure for park maintenance.

“When school is out the park gets a lot of attention. We’ve got a lot of hard surfaces there, and it’s not feasible at all for us to sanitize or disinfect,” says Police Chief Chris Wright.

The park equipment will be roped off and signs posted about the closure. Blackshear PD officers will ask people to leave the park when patrolling the area.

Blackshear Police Department and Fire Department reports can be obtained via email when feasible so residents don’t have to come to the station to pick them up. Call 912-449-7011 to request a copy of your report.

City court has been canceled for March and April and officers are writing citations for the July court date now.

City hall employees will begin taking water bill payments by phone at 912-440-7000 or online at www.blackshearga.com, and temporarily waiving the notarization requirement for water service applications so residents can submit their applications online via the city website.

Disconnection of water services for non-payment will be suspended until April 23.

“We could potentially get to where we’re operational, but not person to person,” Wright says.

Harborview Pierce County Nursing Home has also suspended visitation with residents for now, and the Pierce County Senior Center will be closed through March 31. Seniors who visit the center regularly will be provided shelf-stable meals and home-delivered meals will continue on their regular schedule.

The Pierce County Library closed at 3 p.m. Monday and will remain closed through March 30. Library fines are waived through April. More information is available can be found on the Library’s Facebook page and at okrls.org under the calendar tab.