By DEUCE NIVEN
UPDATES: Columbus schools remain open, with preventive measures taken; County Commissioners expected to limit Monday’s meeting. See below.
Disruptions to daily routines in response to the growing Coronavirus COVID-19 risk continued to grow locally, nationally, and globally on Friday.
Local impacts involving healthcare, the court system, area festivals and events, and offices of this newspaper and its parent company were announced Friday, with additional disruptions likely.
Columbus County Schools
Classes will continue on schedule in the Columbus County Schools, though precautionary steps are being taken to address COVID-19 concerns, the district reported on its Facebook page Friday.
Celebrate the Arts, the annual arts event in the county schools scheduled for March 20-21, has been cancelled, the school district reported. That decision was made “Due to guidance received from the Governor’s Office,” the page said.
In addition, all school facilities are closed to all outside groups through April 6. No school spaces may be rented.
An aggressive disease prevention effort was also announced: “Effective immediately, all school buses will be disinfected twice daily,” the district said. “In addition, all surfaces in the schools, especially those prone to touching, will be disinfected multiple times per day.”
All high school and middle school athletic events for the county schools, including games, practices and conditioning, have been cancelled effective late today. That decision was announced Thursday.
Columbus County Commissioners have a full agenda in front of them for Monday’s scheduled mid-month meeting, but that is likely to be slashed deeply, perhaps to just two “time sensitive” matters, County Attorney Amanda Prince said Friday.
It’s just another example of disruptions caused by worries of spreading the Coronavirus COVID-19, Prince said.
“We hope that if people know the meeting will be very limited, some will be less likely to go,” Prince said.
Only one item on the agenda released Friday seems certain to be addressed Monday, a proposal from an engineer to approve a new “Service Charge” of 85 cents for each 1,000 gallons of water provided to Water Districts I and V from Water District II, effective immediately.
That charge would not be passed on to water customers, but would allow District II to collect revenue for the water it provides to its customer districts, the recommendation from Public Utilities Director Harold Nobles said.
An item not on the current agenda, but likely to be added by commissioners Monday, involves addressing Columbus County Courthouse concerns raised by Resident Superior Court Judge Doug Sasser.
Sasser, in a second hearing with commissioners in his courtroom Friday, gave the board 60 days to develop a plan to address courthouse needs identified in a 2010 needs assessment for the courts.
Sasser told commissioners Friday that failure to submit a plan within 60 days could result in a finding of contempt of court with fines or incarceration, The News Reporter of Whiteville reported.
Balancing public safety with the state’s Open Meeting laws is difficult, Prince said. Local governments expect some guidance from the NC Institute of Governments at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in the coming days, Prince said.
Patient visitation restrictions
Patient visitation will be restricted at all McLeod Health facilities in response to the COVID-19 threat, including McLeod Loris and McLeod Seacoast, a news released from the Florence based healthcare organization said.
“Visitors will be limited to no more than two guests over the age of 14 during our normal visitation hours,” the announcement said. “Children aged 14 and under cannot visit at this time. All visitors exhibiting signs or symptoms of illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose) will be asked not to visit patients at McLeod Health.”
McLeod Health recommends those with questions about Coronavirus to visit McLeodHealth.org, CDC.gov, or SCDHEC.gov.
District Court and Superior Court cases across North Carolina, including Columbus County, will be suspended effective Monday, rescheduled no sooner than 30 days from their currently scheduled date, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court announced.
Notifications will be sent to involved parties on new court dates, Clerk of Court Jess Hill said.
There are exemptions to these continuances, and court officials will be working through those “as soon as possible,” Hill said.
Access to the Courthouse in Whiteville is being restricted, with hand washing stations provided by the Columbus County Agricultural Fair put in place overnight Thursday, and anyone “likely exposed” to COVID-19 asked to contact the Clerk’s Office by telephone for guidance.
“Likely exposed to COVID-19” is defined as someone who:
- Has been in any of the following countries within the last 14 days: China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran
- Resides or have had close contact with anyone who has been in one of the countries listed above within the last 14 days
- Has been directed to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor at home for the coronavirus by any doctor, hospital, or health agency
- Has been diagnosed with, or have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with, COVID-19
- Has flu-like symptoms
This Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival in North Myrtle Beach was cancelled Friday, and Southern Farm Days at Lake Waccamaw, scheduled for March 20 through 22, was postponed, a new date to be announced.
Leaders of Southern Farm Days said the decision came at the urging of the mayor and Columbus County Health Department. Held at the Boys and Girls Home Arena each spring, the event serves to educate the public about local farm heritage and culture.
Lower Cape Fear LifeCare has cancelled all events, grief groups, and community meetings held in its facilities through April 30, the Wilmington based agency with facilities in Columbus and Horry counties announced Friday, saying the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
“The safety of our patients, families and team members is of the utmost importance,” the announcement said. “We continue to be able to accommodate hospice-eligible patients in our area.
A webpage addressing COVID-19 related issues has been established at lifecare.org/coronavirus.
‘No Visitor’ Policy
Atlantic Packaging, Tabor-Loris Tribune’s parent company, “will continue to take this situation seriously and implement reasonable, necessary measures to protect each of you,” an e-mail to employees from company President Wes Carter said Friday.
Perhaps the most visible change, implemented Friday, is a “No Visitor” policy at all Atlantic facilities, including this newspaper.
“This includes suppliers, customers and employee family members,” the notice said. “Anyone not employed by Atlantic is not allowed to enter our facilities until further notice.”
Atlantic employees are taking other steps, with instructions to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days for employee who themselves, or family member, has a fever, respiratory illness, or other Corona symptoms and to contact appropriate authorities for testing.
Steps to allow office employees to work from home are being taken, and specific steps are being taken at manufacturing and warehouse locations throughout the company.
Atlantic is among Columbus County’s larger employers with multiple facilities in Tabor City. Headquarters are in Wilmington, with a national footprint and more than 1,200 employees company wide.
Look for updates here as events warrant and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.