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In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Forsyth County Commissioners took several steps to limit the spread in the community including moving to online meetings, closing parks and recreation facilities and changing rules for restaurants.
This week, commissioners unanimously voted to let the county's existing state of emergency end on Monday, May 18 and set a new declaration to go in effect until the state's declaration of emergency expires.
“However long the governor continues to extend the statewide declaration, that's how long this resolution would run,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
Jarrard said one of the most noticeable changes under the new declaration would be allowing public hearings and letting commissioners take action on items like land-use and long-range planning, which had been suspended.
Commissioners are planning to use Zoom meetings to accommodate a public hearing for the board's Thursday, May 21 meeting and going forward for those who don't want to come to the meetings in person. The county will begin holding in-person public hearings starting at their Thursday, June 4 meeting.
Other actions taken under previous declarations — such as eliminating fees for filing occupation taxes late, not requiring restaurant employees to have a server's license, allowing restaurants to sell to-go packages of beer and wine and allowing retailers to have additional signs — will continue under the normal rules.
Based off community feedback, the county may make further changes, Chairwoman Laura Semanson said, particularly with the servers’ permits.
“I think that is something that has become somewhat onerous for a lot of individuals,” Semanson said. “It's not a product of state law, it's our own, so I think we need to have a hearty discussion on whether that's doing what we envisioned or whoever put in place envisioned in the first place.”
Jarrard said even when the state's declaration of emergency is over, commissioners can still decide to extend those changes.
Jim Pryor, the county's director of parks and recreation, said his department is also looking into the reopening of the certain amenities, like the Fowler Park skate park, and, after those, opening community buildings.
Officials said once those buildings reopen, the county still plans to have some social distancing guidelines, such as limiting how many people are in a room.
Emergency Management Director Chris Grimes said while the county will begin reopening some facilities and meetings, each will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
“We're not flipping a switch May 18,” Grimes said. “We're going to be looking at things program-by-program as we have the availability of PPE, as we have the availability of cleaning supplies, disinfecting supplies to be able to open those programs.”