A Brunswick firefighter is among the new confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Fire Chief Randy Mobley said two other fire department employees are in self quarantine after they were exposed to the coronavirus.
In response to the growing health crisis, Brunswick city commissioners declared a local state of emergency Monday at a special-called meeting.
The measure, effective at noon Tuesday, was unanimously approved by commissioners. The state of emergency will remain in effect until April 13.
The order closes all bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food, along with all gyms and fitness centers, theaters, live performance venues, bowling alleys, arcades and gaming machines in local businesses.
Participants in funerals of more than 10 mourners are encouraged to conduct graveside services or postpone until a later date. Churches are encouraged to follow all health guidelines to avoid the gathering of groups of more than 10 people. Churches are encouraged to offer live streaming and teleconferencing services.
All sightseeing, guides and narrated tours are canceled. Permits to hold weddings and other gatherings at city squares are also on hold.
There could be more amendments to come depending on how the situation evolves.
“Obviously everything is very fluid right now,” said Brian Corry, city attorney.
In a separate resolution, approved unanimously by commissioners, restaurants will be allowed to prepare and offer food and beverages via delivery, curbside pickup or take-out service. Hospital cafeterias, nursing homes, hospice centers and similar facilities will be subject to the restrictions.
Restaurants licensed to sell liquor, malt beverages and wine will be temporarily allowed, including growlers, as long as they are in the original, unbroken container for consumption off premises, but only with the purchase of food.
An employee telework policy was also approved unanimously. The resolution will enable some city employees to work from home rather than come into city buildings where they risk contact with the public.
The goal is to ensure city services aren’t disrupted as the health crisis continues to evolve.
Police Chief Kevin Jones said his officers are having their temperature taken, and they are asked a list of questions to determine their health before starting their work shift.
Officers are practicing social distancing and avoiding conducting interviews in confined places. Law enforcement officials from College of Coastal Georgia and the school district are helping city police. They are also getting a needed, though limited, supply of gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant.
While officers are practicing social distancing, they will still enforce the law.
“People who need to go to jail will go to jail,” he said.
Fire chief Mobley told commissioners his staff has temporarily suspended testing hydrants and other duties during the health crisis. Fire department employees wear extra protective gear when responding to a suspected coronavirus call.
Out-of-town travel is severely curtailed for workers, family and friends are no longer allowed inside the stations and firefighters are getting additional training, Mobley said.
If the virus continues to impact the department, Mobley said the remaining staff may have to work 24 hours on, 24 hours off.
“We’re going to have the same level of response time,” he said.
One of the most at-risk groups, the homeless, was also a concern discussed a the meeting.
Commissioner Johnny Cason said the homeless congregating around The Well in downtown Brunswick is a growing concern because they are not practicing social distancing.
“We’ve got a serious condition there,” he said. “We’ve got to get them in compliance.”
The Rev. Wright Culpepper, executive director of FaithWorks Ministry, said social distancing is emphasized, but visitors to the center quit following the rules after the center closes at 5 p.m. each day. Many homeless spend the night under an awning at the facility, which also is a concern.
“It’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse,” he said.
If the homeless are told they can’t sleep under the awning, they will congregate elsewhere, Culpepper said.
He said the ongoing crisis could last another eight weeks and it may require a tent city be set up to accommodate the homeless until the crisis is over.
The Well is also waiting for a supply of masks organizers will require the homeless to wear when they come inside for laundry, shower or other assistance.
The Well will only allow 10 people inside at a time, and that includes the employees, he said.
“I don’t know the solution after five o’clock,” Culpepper said.
Mayor Cornell Harvey said the homeless are a genuine issue.
“I don’t know what we can do,” he said. “This needs further discussion.”
Cason said there needs to be a stronger sense of urgency in preventing the spread of coronavirus among the homeless.
“If we don’t prohibit the closeness, we’ll be in trouble,” he said. “We probably already are.”