Special session, restrictions, closings
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore’s mayor and council met Monday, March 16, in a special session to provide updates from local health, court and senior services officials on the affects the coronavirus outbreak, which has reached the pandemic stage, has had and will have on the community.
World Health Organization statistics reveal that the outbreak, which has earned pandemic status, had through Monday affected more than 4,600 Americans and more than 183,000 people worldwide.
Mayor Jim Staff moderated the meeting, which included the latest information from staff and management of Atmore Community Hospital, Atmore’s SAIL Center and Atmore Municipal Court.
“This is not really an emergency meeting,” said Staff. “What we’d like to do is let everybody listen to our experts as to what preparations have been made.”
Also revealed or expanded upon during and after the meeting were immediate restrictions affecting use of city parks, prohibiting visits to city and county inmates, transfer of city inmates from county to city custody, and the suspension of all but the most emergent situations in city court.
Following is a summary of the effects on the community due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19):
Charlotte Purvis, director of Atmore’s SAIL Center, announced that the center would be closed to regular clients but would continue to provide hot meals for homebound persons and those who rely on the center for daily meals.
“Not providing meals is not an option,” Purvis said. “We are particularly concerned about our homebound and at-risk congregate seniors, all seniors who might be challenged to do their grocery shopping.”
Starting today (Wednesday, March 18) and continuing for “an unknown period,” only paid staff members will be on duty at all senior centers governed by the Alabama Department of Senior Services, including SAIL centers in Atmore and Poarch. Those employees will be concerned primarily with preparing meals for clients.
“We will remain staffed in order to serve hot meals to-go for the congregate participants or for home delivery to homebound persons,” Purvis said. “This option gets us through the next two weeks.”
After that, she said, seven-pack shelf-staple meals — containing canned goods and other non-perishables — will be provided.
For those who rely on Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) buses, two drivers will pick meals up at the SAIL Centers and deliver them to regular riders.
Atmore Community Hospital Director of Nursing and Interim Administrator Suzanne McGill, Infection Control Nurse Ashley Strawbridge and Director of Operations Brad Lowery told the 18 people in attendance (including all five city council members) that health officials encourage those who show signs of COVID-19 infection call the toll-free hotline (888-264-2256) before coming to the hospital.
“We are trying to limit the amount of people who come into the hospital,” Strawbridge said. “We have canceled all outside meetings — Rotary, Lions, etc. — that usually are held at the hospital.”
McGill, in hopes of stymying any rumors of confirmed cases at the hospital, said ACH personnel currently have to send any COVID-19 tests to an outside lab and wait three to four days to get the results back. She also said no confirmed cases of the virus have been seen at the hospital.
“If you hear anybody say, ‘I went to the hospital, and they told me I have coronavirus,’ that’s not accurate,” she said. “We are currently doing testing, but the supervisor report from (Monday) morning didn’t show any.”
Lowery noted that “in all likelihood, you will see a lot more positive cases (statewide) this week,” and said the situation remains “fluid” and that “things could change.”
Later Monday, ACH officials announced that visitors have been prohibited from entering the local medical center, as well as any primary care facilities or doctors’ offices under the ACH umbrella.
All persons, including prospective patients, seeking to enter the hospital are screened outside the Emergency Department entrance before they are allowed admittance.
At Poarch, where skeleton staffs are manning most services, the tribal health department and pharmacy remained open Tuesday, but there is a move nationwide to have pharmacies distribute prescriptions via drive-through windows.
All Alabama public and private schools, including the Fred L. McGhee Learning Center at Poarch, have been closed until further notice in order to help stem the spread of the virus. All campuses of Coastal Alabama Community College have gone to online classes.
First Baptist Church in Atmore has closed its daycare program until further notice, and public health officials encourage the closure of all daycare centers attended by more than 12 children.
By order of the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, all in-person court proceedings have been cancelled until at least April 16. Poarch officials announced that all court proceedings there have been canceled until further notice.
Escambia County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Dave Jordan reported last weekend that all county residents who received a juror summons or have questions about their respective case(s) should contact their attorney or the Circuit Clerk’s Office.
Those who have received witness subpoena for any case set in Escambia County for court from March 16 through April 16 and who have questions should contact the attorney who requested that subpoena or the Circuit Clerk’s Office.
The county courthouse remained open Tuesday, including the offices of both Circuit Judges, District Judge, Probate Judge, District Attorney and Circuit Clerk.
Van Hughes, clerk of Atmore Municipal Court, said during Monday’s meeting that he has been instructed to transfer all city inmates from the Escambia County Detention Center to the city lockup and to expedite bond hearings for those inmates.
“We have to bring all the inmates we have back to our jail,” Hughes said. “We will try to have them make bonds and get them out. We don’t have the capacity to hold the number of inmates we have to bring back down here.”
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks and Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson each announced Monday that all visitation with inmates has been curtailed until further notice. Only persons who are trying to post bond for an inmate will be allowed in the facilities.
The coronavirus will not, however, prevent the arrest of those who break the law.
“If you do something crazy, you’re still going to jail,” Brooks said.
Statewide, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has modified procedures for issuance and renewals of driver licenses, including a moratorium on road tests. (For more information, see the Atmore News Facebook page.)
Also, the Alabama Bureau of Pardon & Paroles announced that all scheduled pardon and parole hearings have been canceled through April 2.
Restaurants, other businesses
Staff announced that most restaurants are adhering to state recommendations that they only allow 50-percent capacity or that they serve food only through curbside pickup or in to-go fashion.
“Some of our restaurants are already doing that,” the mayor said. “Mainly, we’re concerned with no congregating. That’s the best way to keep this from spreading.”
Wind Creek announced last weekend that all of its Alabama casinos and other properties will remain closed until further notice.
Asked about local banks, Staff said he didn’t know. Other businesses, including Atmore’s Walmart, have shortened their hours of operation to help cut down on the number of people who enter the store.
Staff announced that all essential city services would continue, unless the situation worsens, although restrictions on the use of city parks and the Atmore Welcome Center are now in place.
“We will not stop essential city services,” he said. “Garbage pickup, that sort of thing, will continue. We have suspended anything that happens in our parks, no meetings, no parties, no ballgames or anything like that. The parks won’t be closed, and people can still walk or do things like that, but there won’t be any congregating allowed.”
He added that hand sanitizer is available at city hall, and that the counters there are wiped down regularly with antiseptic.
No one knows how long the restrictions of prohibitions already in place will be necessary, or whether or not the situation might worsen. Should things get better, or worse, in the near future, adjustments will be made.
“If we happen to get a confirmed case here, things could turn different right then,” the mayor said. “It all gets back to common sense. If you can do it by phone or computer, do it. We are trying our best to stay on top of everything, trying to serve the city without a hiccup.”