From empty store shelves to social distancing, concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, have prompted several unprecedented changes to everyday life in Gallatin and Sumner County during the past week.
As of Tuesday, there were 73 people in 10 counties across the state that had tested positive for the virus, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Davidson County had the largest number of cases with 42 while Williamson County had 21. There were no confirmed cases in Sumner County.
While city services have gone uninterrupted, and offices are open, Gallatin officials are encouraging residents to call rather than visit in person.
“The sooner we can eradicate this virus, the sooner we can begin to re-establish our lives,” Mayor Paige Brown said Tuesday. “We must not panic. We must use common sense and look out for each other. Remember that we are all limiting our own exposure so that we can protect those who are the most vulnerable among us.”
The Gallatin Civic Center was closed at 9 a.m. Wednesday until further notice. All organized activities and classes had previously been canceled or rescheduled.
City council and planning commissions are still scheduled to occur, according to Brown. Residents are encouraged to participate remotely, and non-essential personnel are excused from attending. Meetings will be streamed live online at www.gallatintn.gov and citizens may submit remarks for public comment or public hearings by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt said Tuesday that county offices remain open, but he asked the public to stay away if they are sick. Employees have also been encouraged to keep their distance from others and take precautions like sanitizing and disinfecting their offices.
“This has put us in uncharted territory,” Holt said. “We want to keep our employees safe, but we’re trying to balance that with making sure services are provided.”
The Sumner County Commission is still scheduled to meet Monday, March 23 although some commissioners have requested to teleconference into the meeting, Holt added. All certificates of recognition have been removed from the agenda.
Beginning Wednesday, county employees that work at the Sumner County Administration Building in Gallatin along with visitors must enter and exit through the entrance facing Tulip Poplar Drive, according to a news release. Each person will have their temperature checked by medical personnel and will not be allowed to enter if found to have a fever.
On Tuesday, Brown declared a state of emergency in Gallatin as a precautionary measure. The decision came four days after President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency on March 13. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has also signed an emergency declaration allowing the state to bring in more federal funding to respond to the outbreak.
Nationwide, there were 7,038 COVID-19 cases in 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The total number of deaths was 97.
The CDC has encouraged everyone to clean their hands often, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, avoid face contact with unwashed hands, avoid contact with people who are sick and put distance between yourself and others in areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
Anyone who is sick should stay home, cover coughs and sneezes, wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and wear a facemask when around other people.
City leaders are also asking residents to be mindful and considerate of their neighbors.
On Monday, the Gallatin Area Chamber of Commerce launched a new program called Pandemic Pals so that high-risk residents can receive some support that they may need. Those who wish to help and residents who need assistance can visit www.gallatintn.org/programs-events/pandemic-pals or contact the chamber at 615-452-4000.
Residents urged not to hoard groceries
As local shoppers have begun to stock up on toilet paper, cleaning items and food, grocery store chains have all announced temporary changes to store hours in order to help with their sanitization and restocking efforts.
Walmart, which is normally open 24 hours, is now open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. until further notice while Publix has decided to close all of its stores at 8 p.m. each day until further notice.
Kroger also announced last week that all of its stores in Middle Tennessee will now be open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. The company also began limiting the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order beginning March 2.
In addition to closing one hour earlier each day, Dollar General announced Monday that it is strongly encouraging the first hour each store opens be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“There are people in our community who cannot find baby formula and other items,” Brown said Tuesday. “There is no shortage of food or goods, but we are creating the appearance of such by hoarding items that we will not use within 14 days. Stores are restocking and goods will be replenished. Please pace yourself so that all may have access to necessary items – especially those most vulnerable.”
City leaders are encouraging businesses to help customers be able to social distance within their establishments, take proper sanitizing precautions and work to find new ways to continue to do business. Many restaurants are transitioning to take-out only service while others are offering special delivery and curb-side service.
Other companies have decided to temporarily close, like NCG Cinema, which announced Monday it would close its theater in Gallatin along with 23 other locations.
Brown urged residents “use common sense, look out for each other, and be kind” and assured residents that “we will be even stronger and better on the other side of this crisis.
“I know people are anxious and some fearful. That is understandable. This is a serious circumstance and we should be vigilant. But, we can and will get through this. And, it will strengthen our systems and our community.”