HURRICANE — This week’s Hurricane City Council meeting was canceled Tuesday afternoon just hours after city officials said they would still be holding the meeting, proving just how swift changes are happening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent precautions outlined by President Donald Trump Monday to help stem the outbreak of COVID-19, Americans are being asked to work from home if possible, avoid unnecessary travel and limit group gatherings to 10 people for the next 15 days.
In a study released Tuesday by the credit-monitoring service WalletHub, Utah ranks 15 in the nation for taking the most aggressive measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
Following suit with national and state recommendations, St. George City has canceled city council meetings and closed the doors to city hall and other city buildings beginning Tuesday.
This morning, Hurricane City Manager Clark Fawcett said while they did plan to hold the city council meeting this Thursday, they would be taking precautionary measures in an effort to limit the number of people present. But at 4:37 p.m., a notice of cancelation for both the meeting and the public hearings was posted.
If things continue, Fawcett said they will probably try to utilize zoom meetings in order to run the council meeting remotely.
“We just haven’t had as much experience with those kinds of things, so we’ll have to figure out how to do it,” he said.
Daily meetings are being held with the police chief, the city manager, the mayor, city council members and others to discuss potential plans and keep up to speed on the current status of the spread.
As far as keeping city hall open, Fawcett said there’s a possibility they may shut the doors and ask people to call in, but not yet.
“Right now we’re not planning on shutting any doors, but we may put up some barriers that keeps them out in the foyers,” Fawcett said. “And they can still talk to us through there, but give us a little more distance and try to limit the number of people we deal with.”
In the meantime, employees are taking precautionary measures like frequently wiping down surfaces.
The primary challenge for city officials is trying to find a balance in still offering services. Fawcett said:
If I thought it was going to be two weeks and it was done, it probably wouldn’t hurt to shut everything down and just walk away from it for a little bit. I mean, obviously, you’d have to have the police officers out and people taking care of your water and power systems. But if it’s possibly going to be longer than that, then it’s going to be hard because people still have to pay bills. So, if we can still keep it (the city office) open, but try to protect our people and keep the numbers down from gathering too much at one time, that’s what we’re trying to do.
When asked about whether the council meeting was still scheduled, council member Nanette Billings told St. George News she was concerned about the attention being given to COVID-19 that is causing people to live in fear of leaving their houses.
She said she hoped to be a voice of reason in a time of panic.
“You have a better chance of having a heart attack than getting the coronavirus,” she said.
It’s always March, April and May when a virus like this comes out, she said.
“Yes, there’s people that died from the Swine Flu. There’s people that died from the Bird Flu. There’s people that died from the coronavirus — there are,” Billings said. “But they were high-risk people in the first place, and they were going to die if they got any kind of flu — period.”
The recommended precautions she said are normal — washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and staying home when ill — and that it’s important to similar cases to this in the past.
Aside from the city council, local businesses in Hurricane are also having to adapt to the new normal.
Congruent with the rest of the United States, Lin’s Marketplace has felt the impacts of frantic shopping. They have changed their hours of operation, now open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, in order to keep up with the needed stocking and sanitizing.
They have also put up signs limiting the purchase of all products to two per household. As per their sign, this limit includes all items except produce. All produce items are limited to ten with the exception of pre-bagged potatoes, which are capped at one per household.
Sarah Pettit, communications manager for the Associated Food Stores, told St. George News that the greatest impact started Thursday following Gov. Gary Herbert’s press conference and the announcement of two Utah Jazz players testing positing for COVID-19.
“That’s when we saw guests really coming to the stores wanting to stock up,” Pettit said.
The reduced hours and limited purchase of items has been implemented in all Lin’s stores as well as other preventative measures being taken, including new hygiene and hand-washing signage, enhanced guidelines for stocking of in-store sanitizing tools, including cart wipes and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the store, she said. There have also been changes made to the sick leave policy that includes extended sick time and sick pay in the case an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
“We know that there are many people who are very concerned right now, and we want to make sure that we are reiterating that while our supply chain has slowed, we still have a constant flow of inventory coming to our stores,” she said.
Tim Marolf, owner of Triple TJ’s Café, a small family-owned restaurant in Hurricane, said he and his wife are currently discussing whether or not to close down.
“We’re trying to figure that out — right this minute — if it’s worth staying open. We don’t want to be the irresponsible ones,” Marolf told St. George News. “We may just have to close. I just listened to the press conference this morning, and their recommendation is basically telling us (restaurants) to go 50% occupancy. So I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Hours later, at around 5 p.m., the Utah Department of Health issued an order to all restaurants, bars and food service establishments to suspend dine-in operations for two weeks effective at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
There are some permissions such as ordering food for take out and drive-through food services. Third-party delivery services, such as Uber Eats, are also permitted. Any business in violation of this order may be shutdown.
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