Several major steps were taken late last week in Henry County to address concerns regarding the coronavirus.
Within hours of each other on the afternoon of March 12, Henry County government officials announced the closing of its four senior centers until further notice while school district representatives made it known that the county’s public schools would be closed for two weeks. One day later, it was revealed that all county facilities would be closed through March 20 and the Board of Commissioners meeting scheduled for March 17 was cancelled.
A statement was released March 14 announcing the suspension of early voting and the postponement of the presidential preference primary election until May 19. The Georgia Secretary of State was expected to give additional updates this week.
A number of regular county services are being altered for the time being. The recycling center is closed, and all parks and recreation facilities and programs are temporarily cancelled. Those who reserved a county facility for a private event are asked to phone 770-288-7276.
Henry County Transit will only be providing critical medical transport for dialysis patients. Henry County Community Development is postponing its series of Needs Assessment meetings for the County’s 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan and its associated 2020 Annual Action Plan.
A number of county services and forms are offered online in several county departments. Those include Building and Plan Review; Planning and Zoning; and Fire Prevention.
The county’s tag office also has a considerable online presence, allowing for tag renewals, payment of insurance fines, checking status of vehicle insurance, property tax payments, and business license renewals, among other things. The two kiosks inside the Kroger stores in Ellenwood and McDonough are available for tag renewals whenever those stores are open, and drop boxes at the tag offices in Stockbridge and McDonough can be utilized until midnight April 1.
The courts in Henry County have been closed through March 30, and all court dates during this period have been rescheduled. The initial plan was for elections to proceed, but that was changed over the weekend.
The senior center decision was made “In an abundance of caution and in consideration of recently released information on the coronavirus COVID-19,” according to a statement. The centers were closed beginning Monday of this week.
After consulting with staff and receiving briefings from the Emergency Management Agency and District 4 Department of Public Health, county manger Cheri Hobson-Matthews made the decision “as a preemptive measure” since the elderly have been identified as the most vulnerable segment of Americans being affected by COVID-19.
At the time of the announcement, there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Henry County and the temporary closures were being taken as a precautionary measure.
“We are taking this measure in order to protect our senior citizens from this very serious virus,” said Hobson-Matthews. “From what I understand, the coronavirus is very contagious and our senior population is one of the most vulnerable groups. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone, but in the best interest of our seniors, we have to weigh a small inconvenience against a very serious health concern.”
Officials also noted the Centers for Disease Control’s strong recommendation of social distancing as a proactive measure to stay healthy.
Although the centers will be closed to the public, certain senior services will still be in operation. Meals on Wheels and in-home services will continue for those who currently receive them. The senior centers will also continue to serve lunch meals “with an innovative drive-thru service” according to officials. Clients who are already registered with Senior Services will be permitted to purchase meals in a drive-thru line, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
School district superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis made the announcement regarding the closing of all county public schools “for two weeks and potentially longer.” This was done after a press conference by Gov. Brian Kemp during which it was recommended that school districts consider closing school operations based on the conditions of their respective districts. All district-associated activities were suspended immediately upon the announcement.
“This extended closure will allow for a thorough cleaning of all facilities and district property, for district officials to implement continuity plans, and for state officials to continue to assess the current situation regarding coronavirus in Georgia,” Davis stated. “While there are no confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Henry County at this time, we completely understand the growing concern for the health and wellness of our students, our employees, our families, and our community.”
Preparations were made to begin a remote learning plan that will allow students to continue their studies using their district-issued device or printed materials. Teachers have digital office hours for students and parents to ask questions or receive assistance.