Mayor’s Statement on COVID-19 Pandemic

March 19, 2020

Good evening.  I again want to reassure the citizens of our B-U community that our City is working closely with county and state health department officials regarding the threat posed by the corona virus.  I spoke with Sue McKisic, director of our county health department just this morning. We continue to have conversations with our school system, and I spoke with Wesleyan president, Joel Thierstein this morning.  We’ve reached out to Sarah Campbell, director of our Senior Center inquiring as to how we can help our most vulnerable, that is, our elderly. Everyone in our City organization is here to minimize as much as possible the threat posed to our citizenry by Covid-19.  We will be having twice per week teleconferences with health department, healthcare providers, and county representatives. We will continue to be fully collaborative and interactive as public officials as we collectively address this health crisis.

While there are centuries of quality service to our City represented in this room this evening, I can assure you that none of us ever signed on to tackle a world pandemic.  It simply wasn’t on anyone’s checklist. I wish none of us ever had to learn new virus phraseology such as “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” “global pandemic,” “Covid-19,” “shelter-in-place,” “flattening the curve,” or the one I detest the most - “the new normal.”  We are all working under declared state and federal emergencies.  

I am saddened by the difficult but very correct decisions to send our college students home for the rest of the semester, to close our public schools, and to cancel our Strawberry Festival.  Our restaurants and pubs have gone silent except for take-out. Closures of our movie theatre, bowling alley, JesterLine, and virtually all things recreational, is terrible but necessary.

It is imperative that as an organization, that our City continue to offer our most essential services, delivery of utilities - water, sewage, waste collection; and first response from our police and fire departments.  In order to assure continuity of all of those services, we need to protect the health of our employees first and foremost while they discharge these important tasks. Also, our citizenry will be better protected from this health threat if they’re not out and about tending to non-essential chores.  To that end - and consistent with what many of our sister cities have invoked, I am proposing our Council approve the following emergency measures until our state and federal authorities have determined that the threat has passed.

(1) All City facilities effective immediately, or at least following the conclusion of this evening’s regular meeting, will be restricted to employees only.  While our City facilities will continue to be staffed, and important work executed- the general public will not be permitted physical access to these facilities, with the exception of general deliveries to our facilities and further with exception to our solid waste transfer station that will continue to receive materials.  City Hall, our public safety complex, our water and sewer plants, the streets’ garage, Stockert Youth and Community Center, the Colonial Theatre, and the Charles W. Gibson Memorial Library will all be closed to the general public until further notice.

(2) Subject to supervisor approval, certain employees may be authorized to work from home, though given the nature of what we do as an organization, those are very few in number.  For employees required to be at their workstations, we will seek to maintain six feet social distancing to minimize virus exposure.

(3) All city departments shall engage in reasonable and appropriate cleaning and disinfection exercises to minimize exposure to the virus.

(4) Municipal Court will be suspended until further notice, and I think it’s fair to say we’re looking at 30 days or longer before court will resume.  Please call 304-472-1651 for assistance with any matters related to a citation or Buckhannon Municipal Court issue.

(5) While we are not closing parks or our river trail, park restrooms will be locked due to recurrent theft and vandalism.  Park users should maintain the minimal six feet social distancing, and groups of 10 or more is strictly prohibited and will be monitored by our Police Department.  We will suspend park pavilion rentals until this state of emergency has been lifted. 

  (6) Gatherings of 10 or more people should not occur anywhere within our corporate limits, and meetings of 10 or more City employees shall not occur. 

(7) Please call 304-472-1651 for assistance with paying your water utility bills. The City offers an online bill pay and pay by phone options. The City also has a payment drop box in the rear of City Hall.

(8) Our City will not terminate essential utility services of any customer during the pendency of this state of emergency, however, it is important to recognize that all customers shall ultimately be held fully accountable for the cost of utility services received.

(9) Our City will partner with downtown restaurants to establish curbside pickup through special parking space designations for takeout orders, all to minimize virus exposure while helping to keep our restaurants up and running until this health threat has passed.

(10) Our City strongly recommends self-quarantine measures by all of our citizens to the maximum extent possible until this health threat has passed.  The more we isolate ourselves from others, the less likely we are to contract the virus.

I would be remiss if I failed to observe the stalwart service to this community of not only our excellent City staff, but the hospital and healthcare employees who are on the front line of battling this threat.  Also, we appreciate the staffs at our grocery stores who are working overtime to stock shelves so that we may all continue to be fed. At some point in the future, we’ll celebrate Walmart Day, as the efforts of their store’s employees have been monumental during this crisis.  

We are all in THIS together, and I know as we get through the coming weeks, that we’ll remain strong as a community with minimal impact upon the health of our residents.  Anyone having an emergency should contact 911 as you normally would. The best source of information about Covid-19 remains the Centers for Disease Control website.