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NOTEBOOK: COVID-19 hits home

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Perhaps not since World War II has Milledgeville-Baldwin County experienced such a dramatic disruption in daily life.

It’s a surreal thought, somewhat chilling.

Indeed, local leaders and business owners spent this week making quick and difficult decisions, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s suddenly hit way too close to home.

It was a very fluid situation. For instance, the Twin Lakes Library System decided on Monday to postpone its different events and programs. Then, the following day, the library announced that it was closing altogether, until April 5 at the earliest.

Although it was business as usual for many local restaurants, others made the switch to takeout/ drive-thru only. Milledgeville’s most venerable restaurant – The Brick – announced it was moving to “curbside pickup” and delivery only.

“In an effort to keep all of our families safe, The Brick will be closing the dining room and bar to customers effective Wednesday, March 18,” wrote the restaurant on its Facebook page Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, at least one food and beverage establishment made the decision to lock up altogether.

“Due to the circumstances of Covid-19 has presented and heeding to federal government suggestions, Blackbird Coffee has made the difficult decision to temporarily close effective immediately,” the business wrote on its Facebook page.

There are roughly 2,000 jobs in “accommodations and food services” in Baldwin County, according to the Department of Labor, and these jobs represent around 15 percent of the entire local workforce. The large majority of these positions are hourly, however, and what the immediate future holds for these workers is very unclear.

Working in Baldwin County’s favor, however, are the relatively high number of “government employees,” the majority of whom will continue receiving paychecks. Roughly 20 percent of the local workforce is “state employees,” which is well above the statewide average.

Banks, meanwhile, also are making their moves. Magnolia State Bank will be “appointment only” and “drivethru only,” beginning Friday.

“We certainly hope that this is very temporary. For the time being, however, we decided that this is the best course of action,” said David Dyer, bank president. “But, we want everyone to know that we’ll still be here.”

Early summer

In some ways, the COVID-19 crisis feels like a “second summer” around Milledgeville-Baldwin County. The college students are largely gone, while local children are out of school. For many parents who are still working, daycare became the only viable option.

“We had a good number of children today. Not quite as many as the summer, but still a good number,” Robin Dixon, owner of Robin’s Nest on Irwinton Road, said on Tuesday. “We’re ready. We stay ready.”

Dixon said that her employees “are now constantly cleaning and constantly sanitizing.” Also, according to Dixon, the daycare plans on using a digital forehead thermometer on everyone who walks through the door each day.

“All we can do right now is our best,” Dixon added.

Local government decisions

The county commission made its move on Tuesday morning, announcing numerous closures and alterations.

Baseball and softball leagues at Walter B. Williams, Jr. Park were “suspended until further notice,” as was the gymnasium. The walking track and ballfields will remain open, however.

Meanwhile, for those who need to pay their “birthday tax” and pick up new car tags, the Tax Commissioner’s Office will remain open. However, the office “requests that you keep a safe distance from employees,” according to a county commission press release.

Added the release: “If you are coughing or sneezing, please do not come to the courthouse… If at all possible, we ask that citizens conduct county business online at www.baldwincountyga. com”

With this in mind, the county water department office will remain open, although officials are “strongly encouraging” customers to mail in their checks or use the online portal.

Meanwhile, the Milledgeville City Council has suspended First Friday and “all city events, with the exception of City Council meetings.” The city’s parks will remain open, although park rentals will not be available.

Court canceled

Courts, ranging from traffic court to drug court to Superior Court, have all been suspended.

The county’s next big court day was scheduled for April 9, which included traffic court and misdemeanor court. However, those court sessions have now been moved to May 7, according to Solicitor General Skye Gess. In the mean time, added Gess, her office will remain open, and anyone with any questions about their traffic ticket or court date can call her office, or call and schedule and in-person appointment.

What’s new at the Massee Motel?

The jailhouse stripes on inmates’ uniforms at the county jail are a little more faded these days, as the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office has enacted a number of new sanitation policies and procedures. Included is extra Chlorox in the laundry, as well as extra Chlorox in the cleaning solution.

Also, according to Sheriff Bill Massee, all new inmates are having their temperatures taken prior to entering the jail. Also, a new questionnaire is being given to all new inmates, complete with questions about recent travel and past health problems.

Although the county jail only has five medical isolation cells, Massee said that his department is remaining vigilant. The sheriff added that the new policies mimic the policies from the MRSA outbreak from 2017 and 2018, a time when many jails and other facilities altered their routines.

“I learned a long time ago that, if you’re a small county like we are, you better be ready to take the lead yourself and not wait on the state (government) or federal (government) to come in and help you,” Massee said. “We are remaining very proactive, and I’m extremely proud of the job that our folks are doing.”