As the sense of threat from the coronavirus grew in the nation over the past few days, Wayne County groups responded with efforts to join together in community support as well as with a new wave of closures and cancellations of large gatherings.
Along with an earlier school closure than was announced last week came announcements of restricted activity from the Jesup Walmart, Wayne Memorial Hospital, the Dogwood Festival and area churches.
The Dogwood Festival and concert, planned for March 27-28, have both been canceled as of Tuesday morning, according to the event sponsor, the Wayne County Arts Council.
A town hall meeting planned by Wayne County Board of Education member Sheron Daniel and the Jesup City Council’s planning retreat set for next week have both been postponed until further notice.
All county offices remain open and operational, but recreation events are canceled as of a Monday memo from County Administrator Ed Jeffords. No new rentals of county facilities are being accepted.
Some 12 locations, including eight schools, will offer sack lunches to students on a pickup basis for the duration of the four-week school closing.
The local Boys & Girls Club, Turning Point Worship Center, and World Class Karate will partner with the Wayne County school system to offer the lunches.
In a message to his membership announcing the plans to distribute food, Turning Point pastor Justin Mitchell said, “We as believers should have a ‘we’ mentality. Love your neighbor. Care for them. Put others above self. We are a people of hope. If there was ever a time for the church to rise up with faith, hope and a heart to serve others so the world can see a true difference it is now.”
At the national level, the response is intensifying, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that “for the next eight weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”
The response to the economic impact of the pandemic is also expected to intensify this week, as the White House and Congress were approaching agreement on a stimulus package including payroll tax relief, small business loans and the possibility of direct payments to struggling families.
Pastor Mike VonMoss of Jesup First Baptist said Tuesday that his church plans at this point on continuing to hold Sunday morning worship services at 10:30 a.m., but all other church activities are suspended.
“We are instructed to love our neighbor. Right now, this may be the best way to do that,” he said. “We all need connection, so we’ll continue to hold the morning service until one of two things happens: There’s a confirmed case of the virus in Wayne County or the governor tells us to close it down.”
Jesup First United Methodist Church announced to its members Monday that in-person worship services were canceled for the rest of the month.
Rebecca Duke-Barton, pastor of Jesup United Methodist Church, said in a message to the church membership that she was hopeful that services would again be open in time for Easter.
The Wayne County Christian Ministerial Alliance was set to meet Tuesday to arrive at a consensus on area churches’ plans, but no word on the decision was available at press time.
Personnel at the Jesup Walmart confirmed that the store would be limiting hours as announced nationally over the weekend. The headquarters of the nation’s largest retail chain said that, as of Sunday, all of its more than 4,700 U.S. stores would close for restocking and cleaning from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night.
Wayne Memorial Hospital announced Monday that it would be closing its popular cafeteria to the public, as well as limiting hospital visitation. As of Tuesday, only two visitors per person are allowed at the hospital, hospital administrator Joe Ierardi said.
Most businesses in the county were apparently maintaining normal hours this week, with some changes in services taking place.
Bart McKinney of B-Mac’s said he has temporarily closed the restaurant’s dining room but is extending hours at the walk-up window.
He said he feels much of the fear of the virus locally is unwarranted, noting that most of the cases in Georgia are in the Atlanta area. He said, however, that his business is taking every precaution to protect customers and workers.
“We take every employee’s temperature when they come in, and if they have the slightest fever, we send them home. They’re all washing hands and wearing gloves and being cautious,” he said.
He said the decision to close the dining room was based on the lack of customers. He said 90 percent of his business early this week was at the walk-up window.
The window is now open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., he said.
Some internet providers are offering free services to households with children, and online learning sites are being promoted among parent groups for help in dealing with the impact of four or more weeks without school.
Outschool.com, one of the sites being shared, offers some 10,000 video-chat classes at $5 per class. A “Family lockdown tips and ideas” page has surfaced on Facebook in response to the national situation.
The Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) announced publicly over the weekend that, as Ierardi had said last week, anyone who suspects he or she has the COVID-19 disease should call, not come in person.
“The State of Georgia has a new COVID-19 hotline. If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, please contact your primary care doctor, an urgent care clinic, or your local federally qualified healthcare center. Please do not show up unannounced at an emergency room or health care facility,” the GDPH announcement said.
The hotline number is (844) 442-2681. The Wayne County Health Department can be reached by calling (855) 473-4374.
The GDPH reported at noon Tuesday that Georgia has 146 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death from the virus.
Most of the cases are occurring in people over 18, with only 1 percent reported in the 0-17 age range. The 18-59 age range now accounts for 46 percent of the cases, and those 60 and over account for 40 percent of the cases, the department reported. An additional 13 percent are of unknown age.
In the noon-Tuesday report, cases have been reported in 27 counties, with most in metro Atlanta and surrounding area. Only Charlton and Lowndes were reporting cases in Southeast Georgia.
The CDC posted in its noon report Tuesday a national total of 4,226 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 75 deaths. According to CDC information, daily reports of cases peaked at 90 on March 4 and then began coming down but jumped to 113 on March 9. Numbers for the past week were still tentative owing to the incubation period of the virus.
Only West Virginia was reporting zero cases Tuesday.