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Open and shut(down)
Pandemic leads to closures, more in effort to protect public from COVID-19
Mask Donation
JEFF WHITTEN/Coastal Courier Caesarstone employee and Liberty County EMS Paramedic Chad Easley, left, shows one of the 1,000 N95 masks the Bryan County-based company donated Friday to Liberty Regional Hospital as Liberty EMS Shawn Parker looks on. The company’s donation of masks more than doubled the hospital’s supply of the masks, which help protect healthcare workers and first responders from both airborne particles and liquid contaminants.

It’s a different world out there than it was just two weeks ago.

Then, the biggest local stories were TSPLOST and upcoming school board and sheriff’s races. 

Now, it’s all about COVID-19. 

It’s meant most local governments holding emergency meetings shown live on social media and issuing emergency declarations. 

Daycares, barbershops and, restaurants forced to alter the way they do business to meet mandatory physical separation of patrons and cleaning requirements or shut their doors until the pandemic is over. 

Bars and nightclubs closed.

Schools closed. 

There may be more restrictions to come, as communities grapple with how to keep the pandemic from spreading. 

In the meantime, here’s a look at how Liberty County and Hinesville’s governments are tracking the 

Liberty County

The Liberty County Commission in an emergency live streamed meeting Tuesday expanded the local precautions against the coronavirus pandemic, banning gatherings of more than 10 people and closing or restricting some businesses.

No organization can allow more than 10 persons to gather unless the six feet of separation is in effect. 

The county order includes many provisions of Gov. Brian Kemp’s statewide declaration of emergency. An example of this is the requirement that certain people isolate themselves by staying in their homes or other residences. This is aimed at people with chronic lung disease, residents of nursing homes, and people undergoing treatment for cancer. Also included are some people identified by the Department of Public Health as having tested positive or suspected of contact with infected persons.

Liberty Countians are strongly encouraged to self-isolate in their homes, going out only for essential services.

Restaurants are restricted to take-out, delivery, curbside or drive-through service. No inside dining is allowed.

Bars, night clubs, taverns and similar businesses are closed, as are barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors and massage parlors.

The county ordered closure of yoga classes, gymns, martial arts schools, dance studios, spas, saunas, indoor entertainment facilities, bowling alleys and a list of similar places likely to cause gatherings.

All county recreation activities are shut down but parks and greenspaces are open to allow walking, biking and similar activities.

Special events scheduled on county-owned property like facility rentals are cancelled; permit, deposit and rental fees already paid will be refunded.

Business license renewals will not be processed during the COVID-19 emergency and when the restrictions are ended businesses will have 45 days to renew.

The commission waived late fees and cutoffs for customers of the county water system for the duration of the emergency.

Tax Commissioner Vergil Jones is authorized by commission action Tuesday to waive penalties and interest on ad valorem taxes when he determines that taxes were not timely paid because of the coronavirus emergency.

The county emergency declaration is in effect until April 6 unless another date is specified. The actions of the county commission apply to the unincorporated area of the county. 

 In a meeting closed to the public because of the coronavirus crisis the Liberty County Commission met in person Thursday 

The meeting’s agenda was a short one, in line the commissioners’ intent to defer all business “not of a pressing nature.” 

Action included approval of a bid for a backhoe and agreement to some construction items for the new fire station being built on Isle of Wight.

The commissioners accepted the recommendation of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission to rezone a half acre near Cowart Road to a single-family, two-family, and mobile home residential district.

Zoning is one of the actions the commissioners say they will continue to hear at their first-Tuesday-of-each-month regular meetings. The midmonth meetings are suspended until further notice.

One exception to the commission’s closed meeting posture will be for property owners and neighbors who have a right to speak in public hearings held by the LCPC and the county commission.

No public hearing was held Thursday because no one had asked to speak on the Cowart Road rezoning. The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission has cancelled its April meeting and will meet again on May 19. 

The LCPC office operations continue but with recommended social distancing. The office in the Historic Courthouse is not open to the public and business is being conducted by telephone and online. Paper forms and applications can be left in the box outside the office.

Similar precautions are in effect for the Courthouse Annex building next door. 

Hinesville’s city council met March 19, then again Saturday, then again Monday.  

At its most recent meeting, the city council added daycares daycares, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, tattoo parlors and other such places to its list of businesses closed under the initial city’s state of emergency declaration issued Saturday, according to a press release issued Monday.

The closures were signed Monday by Mayor Allen Brown following a called meeting at City Hall that was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Saturday, the city ordered the closure of bars and other businesses as a response to social distancing directives issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

So far, only one case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Liberty County. See the city’s press release on the emergency declarations on page 10A. 

As for the city’s March 19 meeting, it was closed but broadcast live, and covered by a Courier report. 

The Hinesville City Council met on Mar. 19 for their regularly scheduled meetings. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the meeting was not open to the public and was broadcasted live through the official City of Hinesville Facebook page. Councilmembers and mayor kept the recommended six feet apart from one another, with some communicating through the phone, as they discussed City business.  

Sick leave will be provided to any City employees in the event they contract the COVID-19 virus. The City Council continues to take precautions against the spread of the virus. While City Hall is closed to the public, a door will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to allow the exclusive payment of water bills. Drop boxes will be available for check payments. 

There was a request to submit the Emergency Solutions Grant on behalf of the Community Development Department’s Homeless Prevention Program. This request is an annual occurrence. Funding is requested for $143,000. It will be used for hotel/motel vouchers, rapid rehousing, prevention services for at risk cases, and HMIS/coordinated entry which will give funding for part-time intake staff, according to City of Hinesville documents. It has a required match of $143,000, bringing the total to $286,000.

A de-annexation request was made for 0.59 acres to get rid of a small 0.02 acre island. The unincorporated island was created with Annexation Ordinance #2019-02. It is a well site for the neighboring subdivision off Ruben Wells and Cowart Road. The request was approved. 

Another request was approved by the Council and the Mayor to implement the General Fund Public Service Agency Program. According to meeting item documents, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) limits public service funding to 15 percent of the award. General Fund program will require an amendment of originally a FY2020 $35,000 budget, though this amount was changed to $12,000. 

Finally, the Cigna Healthcare plan is up for renewal. This renewal is only for a year. With this renewal, Cigna proposed a 4.99 percent increase. The plan will be increased from $1,915,341.44 to $2,011,096.20. The surplus received will be used to offset the change in premium. A three-year healthcare plan will be up for bidding next year.  

Kayla Gamble reported on Hinesville. Joe Parker Jr. reported on Liberty County. 

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