Within a week, lives across the world changed.
Even in the relative isolation of Sevier County, people are feeling the social, economic and even psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Terms like, “social distancing,” “self-quarantine” and “soft closure” have become commonplace vernacular as people come to grips with a new reality.
Many are watching websites and keeping track of the expansion of novel coronavirus.
Others are just trying to figure out how to make is possible for business to survive an economy that is being shuttered as precautions are taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I’ve talked to a handful of firms that are in significant distress,” said Malcolm Nash, Sevier County’s economic development director. “Orders stopped coming in and existing ones are being canceled.”
Refill cups are no longer allowed at most places. At the Scenic Quick Stop in Salina, only cups that are sanitized by staff are allowed. The Quick Stop is also offering full service at its gas pumps, limiting people’s exposure to each other while providing some opportunities for employees to work hours.
Dining rooms in restaurants have been shut down, making curbside service the new standard.
“There were much fewer people in restaurants before the latest restrictions were put into place, now more so with no inside dining,” Nash said. The economics of the COVID-19 crisis will likely take a lot of time to sort out.
“I’ve not heard of any businesses closing yet,” Nash said. However, in a world where the situation seems to change hour by hour, it’s getting hard to anticipate what will happen next.
Local governments are also responding to the pandemic.
“Right now we’re just monitoring this,” said Tooter Ogden, Sevier County commissioner. He said the foot traffic in the county’s administration building has slowed, creating an atmosphere of a soft closure without actually declaring one.
“It’s been self-directed,” Ogden said. However, during a meeting with department heads Monday, the county decided to move forward with plans for a soft closure.
The county has to be able to conduct business, such as providing services at the recorder’s office, but will be asking people to do as much online as possible. Employees who can work from home are being asked to do so as much as possible.
“Real estate transactions have to be recorded,” Ogden said.
Ogden said when the health department determines stricter measures should be taken the county will be ready. This means the county building could be locked up and only available by appointment.
“We are going to follow the direction of our health department,” Ogden said. More detailed information about the county’s functions is available online here.
Richfield City started an appointment only basis for many of its functions Monday.
“We still have to be available to help the public,” said Michele Jolley, city manager. She said the city is doing what it can to limit exposure by making building permit applications available online.
The city is also likely going to start utilizing technology for its city council meetings, broadcasting them online to limit the number of people in the room at once. Jolley said the city is doing its best to limit the size of gatherings, but that all government meetings in the state have to be conducted in a way that people can observe.