Washington County looks to limit exposure to COVID-19

Robert Houk • Mar 17, 2020 at 9:27 AM

Washington County has canceled its government meetings for the rest of this month, including the County Commission meeting scheduled for March 23.

The move is to reduce possible contact with the novel coronavirus.

County Mayor Joe Grandy said Monday that while Washington County offices will remain open for business, he and other courthouse officials are encouraging residents to conduct their business with county government online, by phone or by mail.

He said the move is an attempt to “shift habits” away from face-to-face contact to online transactions.

“Our goal is to be prepared as much as possible,” the mayor said. “We want to keep government operating so that people can get their car tags and business licenses. That’s why it’s important that we do all we can to keep our employees healthy.”

He said the goal of canceling meetings is to reduce public contact with COVID-19. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has recommended calling off all meetings of groups with 10 people or more. 

“Some people may think this is overkill,” Grandy said, but noted he would rather be accused of overkill than of being unprepared.

Although Washington County has yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, health officials say that is likely to change soon. Sullivan County currently has the one confirmed case in the region.

“The reality is we will see it here,” Grandy said. “It’s only a matter of when.”

He said public health officials, including those with the Washington County Health Department, said limiting public contact is key to preventing a “surge” of new cases of the coronavirus. He said “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 cases would give health providers more time to prepare the resources it needs to treat the illness.

Grandy said canceling meetings — such as the two county Budget Committee meetings scheduled this week — will not impede government operations. He said work on preparing a new county budget is already “a little ahead of schedule” this year.

The mayor said he and other county officials are hoping the state General Assembly will grant county commissions temporary power to deliberate online or via conference calls. The speakers of the House and Senate, along with Gov. Bill Lee, released a statement earlier Monday announcing state lawmakers are looking to pass a new state budget soon and recess as a result of COVID-19.

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