Editor’s Note: News from across Fayetteville and Lincoln County related to local response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) is being updated daily on The Times’ website at www.elkvalleytimes.com and shared on our social media.
It’s been an unprecedented week locally and across the state and nation, as the situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve and community leaders try to strike a balance without overreacting as they heed the advice of authorities.
As of Sunday afternoon, there were 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee, according to the state Department of Health, and while none of those were in southern Middle Tennessee, the risk it poses for older adults and persons with severe underlying health conditions has impacted the community here on a wide scale.
While Lincoln County and Fayetteville City schools are on spring break this week (March 16-20), the decision for further closure came Monday as both systems announced that local schools would be closed through April 3. That announcement came at the urging of Gov. Bill Lee. During the closures, all school events will be cancelled; however, city schools are asking all of its faculty and staff to report to their buildings on March 23 and 24.
Riverside Christian Academy, also on spring break, later announced the school would be closed until at least March 31.
Monday morning, the City of Fayetteville announced it would be limiting access to the Fayetteville Municipal Building, particularly to the general public, until further notice in an effort to protect employees from possible exposure to the virus. You can contact the city at 931-433-6154 or via email.
In a press conference early Monday afternoon, Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman and Fayetteville Mayor Michael Whisenant discussed each of their respective areas.
“All county offices will remain open,” said Newman, noting that there are services necessary for the daily activities of citizens. “We will not be closing any county offices, but there will be daily updates … If there are any changes in any of the things we’ve planned, we will let you know.
“One thing that I know and I think our county knows is that prayer works,” Newman said. “We need to pray for those people who are in circumstances that are a little tough right now. But pray for our whole country and especially our state and county, Tennessee and Lincoln County, for the things that we need will be provided over a short period of time.”
Whisenant said that the city has continued to evaluate city services, and while limited access is in place at the Fayetteville Municipal Building, all other services remain as usual.
“We can accept credit card or debit card payments for property taxes over the phone or you can pay online at www.fayettevilletn.com,” a statement read that was issued by the city Monday. “The City of Fayetteville wants to take every precaution to keep our friends and family safe and health. We will keep the community informed as more information becomes available.”
Over the past week, representatives from all Fayetteville and Lincoln County agencies and governments have participated in multiple conference calls with the Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
“Discussions are ongoing about the status of local meetings and future events in Fayetteville and Lincoln County,” Whisenant said. “The Board of Mayor and Aldermen want our daily businesses and events in our community to be back to normal as soon as possible, but at the same time, the BMA wants to take every precaution to keep our friends and family safe and healthy. We will keep the community informed as city and county officials work toward addressing this issue on a local level.”
In addition to the safety and welfare of citizens, local officials indicated they are also concerned about the local economy.
Interim guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that for the next eight weeks, large events and mass gatherings be canceled or postponed.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing,” the CDC website reads. “This recommendation does not apply to the day-to-day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.”
The recommendations resulted in some local churches cancelling services Sunday out of an abundance of caution as they offered alternative ways to worship.
A statement released by the Slawburger Festival committee noted that the sixth annual event will not be held as planned.
“Late Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for large events with a recommendation that festivals, like Slawburger Festival, be cancelled or postponed for the next eight weeks,” reads the announcement. “The planned date, April 18, is less than five weeks away. Therefore, in accordance with the CDC’s guidelines, the Slawburger Festival is postponed indefinitely.
“We will immediately begin the process of refunding vendors and sponsorships while continuing to monitor CDC recommendations as the response to COVID-19 evolves, and we will announce updates through local media, social media and our website as those updates become available.
“This decision was not made lightly. We understand the effects, but now and always our main focus is the health and safety of the locals and visitors to our community.”
A number of other cancellations and/or postponements have been announced.
Cancellations and postponements
- Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, scheduled April 18, has been postponed indefinitely.
- Sixth Annual Slawburger Chase 5K, to have been held April 18, has been postponed indefinitely.
- Question, Persuade, Refer Suicide Prevention Training, scheduled for March 19, has postponed.
- Sixth Annual Slawburger Festival, scheduled April 18, has been postponed indefinitely.
- Reunion of Blanche High School classmates, scheduled for April 4, has been cancelled.
- American Legion dances, held every Saturday night, have been cancelled until further notice.
- Fayetteville Public Utilities' Ribeye Sandwich Sale, scheduled for March 27 for the benefit of local charities, has been postponed.
- Fayetteville Municipal Building is closed to the general public until further notice. You can contact the city at 931-433-6154 or online via the city’s website, www.fayettevilletn.com with questions.
- Fayetteville Police Department is closed to the general public until further notice.
- Fayetteville Municipal Court is suspending court cases scheduled through April 16, in accordance with an order from the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Letters are being sent out to those with cases scheduled, but if you have not received a notice, call 931-438-7771 or visit the Fayetteville Police Department Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Fayetteville Rotary Club meetings cancelled for March 17 and 24.
- Fayetteville Kiwanis Club will not meet for the next two weeks.
- ‘Don’t Be Fooled’, a free seminar for senior adults, is postponed, probably until May. (See story on 9A of this week’s edition.)
- Tablescapes fundraiser for the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum, originally planned for April 3, has been postponed until the fall.
- FCE Casseroles and More Sale scheduled for March 20 has been cancelled. As of earlier this week, no decision had been made on whether it will be rescheduled.
- Veterans Town Hall Meeting that was scheduled for Monday, March 16, at the Lincoln County Courthouse was cancelled. It will be rescheduled for a later date.
City, county schools/RCA
With both Lincoln County and Fayetteville City schools closed this week for spring break, education leaders had issued statements and were monitoring the situation to determine how school might be impacted in coming weeks.
That was until Monday, when Gov. Bill Lee issued a statement, urging every school district in Tennessee to close in response to the evolving situation.
“Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020, to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease, and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31,” he said. Superintendents and local leadership have the full support of my administration to determine effective dates for closure this week as they evaluate what is best for families within their respective districts.”
Consequently, both the Lincoln County and Fayetteville City school systems issued statements Monday afternoon, announcing the closure of schools through April 3. At that point, the situation will be assessed to determine the need for any further action.
“During the closure, all school events will be cancelled, and Lincoln County Schools’ facilities will be closed to all groups,” announced Dr. Bill Heath, director of Lincoln County Schools. “The Lincoln County leadership team has scheduled a meeting to discuss school nutrition, activities, and curriculum. Additional guidance will be shared tomorrow and as it becomes available in coming weeks.”
Lincoln County schools include Lincoln County High School, Central Academy, and Blanche, Flintville, Unity, South Lincoln and Highland Rim schools.
Fayetteville City Schools, which includes Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville Middle School and Ralph Askins Elementary, is also cancelling all school and sports activities until further notice, with the exception of the following:
“All faculty and school staff should report to their buildings on March 23 and 24,” announced the city. “Every effort will be made to provide quality academic opportunities for students, and we seek parent support to ensure that each child completes their assignments … The system will be providing a meal package containing five lunches per student per week until the system resumes normal schedule.
“During the closure, parents and students can expect to find instructions regarding student work and meal pickups on each school’s website or other means of communication.
“In these unusual times, all of us are concerned about the safety and well-being of you and your families,” said Dr. Janine Wilson, director of Fayetteville City Schools. “Please continue to be proactive in following procedures and guidelines outlined by the CDC. Our leadership team will continue to monitor this situation and do what we feel is in the best interest of students. We appreciate your support and cooperation while we make these difficult decisions in unchartered territory.”
The CDC is urging everyone to practice these good habits:
● Wash your hands regularly, especially after using the restroom and before preparing or consuming food.
● Wash your hands for 20 seconds, using soap and hot water. Be sure to also wash your fingertips.
- Avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands or in the air. Always try to cough or sneeze into a tissue, and then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough/sneeze into your arm.
● As much as you can, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose. If children are feeling sick, please keep them home from school. Allow them some time to feel better, so that they do not risk infecting others.
Riverside Christian Academy's Cara Sain, head of school, said RCA will be closed at least until March 31.
"In light of the directive from the Governor regarding Covid-19, RCA will be closed at least until March 31," she wrote in a letter to the RCA family. "All extracurricular activities are cancelled, as well. The board is meeting tonight to discuss the specifics of the situation, so I will have more information for you by tomorrow. Please continue to keep everyone affected by this virus in your prayers."
Motlow State Community College announced Friday that it will extend spring break for students through Sunday, March 22.
Classes will resume in an online-only format beginning Monday, March 23, and continue online-only through Sunday, April 5, when an updated operational announcement will be made.
The extension of Motlow’s spring break is for students only. Staff report to work in keeping with the instructions from their division leaders. The extension of spring break provides both students and the college the needed time to prepare for alternative delivery methods for classes and to deepen the availability of technologies needed to provide remote services should they be needed. The goal of this period is to ensure the well-being of staff, students, and faculty while supporting the academic mission of the institution during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic response.
Motlow has now sanitized its buildings with a Clorox 360 spray. It has also published an updated pandemic plan. The plan, available on Motlow’s website (mscc.edu), frames four distinct operational levels the college will observe and provides details on how those operational levels impact various stakeholders.
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Shelbyville is on an extended spring break through March 20, said Laura Monks, TCAT Shelbyville president, on Sunday. Classes are expected to resume on a normal schedule on March 23.
All 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology are on extended spring break for students this upcoming week, with in-person classes cancelled for the week of March 16-20.
Several TCATs had planned on resuming classes Monday, because several are located in smaller towns and cities with no confirmed COVID-19 cases and because many technical college courses require hands-on instruction and learning. Other TCATs had already extended last week’s spring break for another week.
However, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings asked all TCAT presidents on Sunday afternoon to extend spring break for at least another week and cancel all in-person classes this week. Students were notified through the colleges’ websites, email and alert systems, and social media.
“As we said last week, the safety, health and welfare of our students, faculty, staff and their families are always our top priorities, in addition to our mission of student success and workforce development,” Tydings said. “Health authorities are emphasizing the need for social distancing and other measures to try to limit the spread of this disease. We think this step is an important one to take.”
Although the COVID-19 health threat to the general public is still considered low by the CDC, Lincoln Donalson Care Center (LDCC) administration announced on Thursday new precautions designed to limit the COVID-19 exposure risk to their vulnerable residents.
The majority of the LDCC population falls into the highest risk category for COVID-19 because of their advanced age and multiple complex health conditions. To minimize the risk of exposure, until further notice, LDCC will be implementing the following precautions to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of their residents:
- LDCC staff screening will take place at the beginning of each shift and before entrance is allowed into patient care areas. In an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 introduction into the facility, staff members will have their temperature monitored as well as be asked questions regarding health symptoms and travel history.
- LDCC will temporarily adopt a “no visitors” policy. This policy will prohibit outside visitors from entering the building. An exception to this policy will be in compassionate cases for hospice patients nearing the end of life. In these cases, visitors will be screened with the same scrutiny as our employees and will not be allowed admittance without clearing the screening process. These visitors will be limited to that patient’s specific room.
“Because we understand what a critical role social interactions play in the healing process and overall wellbeing of our residents, we are closely monitoring the situation and will relax or remove restrictions on visitation as soon as it’s safe to do so,” said John Lavender, administrator at Lincoln Donalson Care Center.
Lincoln County Jail
The Lincoln County Jail suspended all non-essential programs, including visitation and church services, Friday as part of its precautionary measures in response to COVID-19.
“These are precautionary measures we’re taking to protect staff, inmates, volunteers and visitors,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder. “Until further notice, all non-essential programs and all non-essential movement within our facility has stopped.
“There will be no visitation, no church services, and there will be no traffic in or out of our jail that is non-essential to law enforcement,” he continued, adding that other protocols have also been established out of an abundance of caution to prevent the facility from being impacted by the virus.
“This doesn’t mean you can’t get arrested,” said the sheriff. “As arrests occur, we’ll be keeping those individuals contained separately so as to protect the general population.
“We will be re-evaluating this as the situation develops,” he added.
Similar measures and protocols have been implemented in the past to protect the jail population from the flu, Blackwelder said.
“We’re not in panic mode by any means,” he said. “We’re simply taking precautions to ensure everyone’s health and wellbeing as much as we possibly can.”
The Fayetteville-Lincoln County Senior Citizens Center is closing Tuesday, March 17, for an indefinite period of time, according to Samantha Freeman, director of the Senior Center and of SCATS-Lincoln.
At this time, SCATS-Lincoln, the public transportation agency, will continue to operate, Freeman said.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) free tax program, which operates from the senior center, has been discontinued at this time. According to United Way of Greater Nashville, which oversees the program, the VITA sites could potentially reopen at a later date.
“Although we want to provide this valuable service to the community, the health and well-being of our strong VITA staff, partners and volunteers is our top priority,” United Way said in a letter to VITA sites. “We believe closing the sites will be in the best interest for everyone, including our tax filers … We will be advocating to the IRS to extend the filing deadline for all counties we serve with the hope that we can re-open sites and continue operations past the April 15 deadline. The IRS has already extended the filing deadlines for Davidson, Wilson and Putnam counties due to the recent tornadoes affecting those areas.”