By Cory L. Higgs
While the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, its lasting effects are beginning to show in all facets of life, especially in local government.
Many county departments have been working for weeks to curb any spread and keep employees and residents safe. Due to travel and crowd restrictions — and the mandate residents must have access to public meetings — the county and school division started to live stream their meetings.
Geri Hazelwood, interim county administrator, said that practice will continue.
“The county plans to continue to live-stream meetings after the pandemic is passed. This is another way to remain open and transparent and reach citizens who may otherwise not be able to attend the meetings,” Hazelwood said.
While the Patrick County School Board meetings are shown on the school division’s page, meetings of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors have been shown on the ‘Friends of Patrick County Tourism’ page, which is intended to market the county and showcase its amenities.
Unlike many localities, including the Town of Stuart, the county does not have its own social media page, but Hazelwood said that may change.
The county is looking into creating and hosting an official government Facebook page to live stream and share information through; however, a final decision has not been made at this time, she said.
In addition to live streams of supervisor meetings, Hazelwood said the county has been implementing other resources for the past weeks as well.
“During the pandemic, we have made the following changes: office closure to the public, telework on Fridays; use of hand sanitizer and face coverings; disinfecting of interior/exterior doors; limited number of people attending in-person meetings; web-based training/meetings; (ages) 65+ not working; suspended recycling; plexiglass shields for Treasurer’s, Commissioner’s offices and DMV,” she said.
Hazelwood noted that those practices were implemented “all the while protecting our employees as well as the citizens while continuing to meet their needs.”
The school division also has been on the front line of combating viral spread, closing its doors in March and moving to online classes for the remainder of the school year.
Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said that the school board hasn’t talked about continuing the live streams, but the subject may be on the table for future discussions.
Gilbert said that the social distancing guidelines affected the board’s work and educational instruction, and added that the board wasn’t going to speculate on the future of the division until more information and data is received, as well as direction from the state.
Currently, a face-covering that covers the nose and mouth is required in all retail, personal care, houses of worship, or any place that people congregate, including restaurants, except while eating. Children under nine are not required to wear a mask; however, Gov. Ralph Northam encouraged face covering be used by anyone three years or older.
As of June 1 the following data shows the following cases: Patrick (19 cases); Henry (114 cases, 3 deaths); Franklin (36 cases, 1 death); Floyd (6 cases); Carroll (97 cases, 1 death); Martinsville 32 cases, 1 death); Galax (124 cases).
The United States alone accounted for nearly 2 million confirmed cases and more than 100,000 deaths from the respiratory virus in the same time frame.