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As local, state and federal governments have scrambled for a response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Forsyth County has been no exception.
But Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Laura Semanson said the county has been having a pretty good reaction to their measures.
“I don't think that we have done anything that has gotten people too upset, hopefully,” Semanson said. “We're all in this together, and we're all trying to look out for the best interest of our public and our employees and everybody's continued health and safety for this. We'll be making changes as the situation demands, and we've got a really good team in place.”
Here's what the commissioner had to say about some of the ongoing issues and struggles with the local COVID-19 response.
Over the last few weeks, most of the country has added the term social distancing to their vocabulary as individuals have been encouraged to stay home and keep their distance from others, which has led to the closure of events, businesses and schools.
Semanson said locals have done a good job limiting contact in most ways, but there are some areas for improvement, such as over the weekend, when there were lots of visitors at popular trails at Sawnee Mountain and the Big Creek Greenway.
“We love seeing that, except it's creating kind of a more congested environment, so we're trying to encourage people to still maintain those safe distances, that same separation, even if it's just in an open space,” Semanson said. “So, that's been a challenge. I know we're looking to what some of the other surrounding communities have done with respect to their parks and rec.”
Impact on businesses
With workers and customers being encouraged to stay home, businesses across the county are expected to take a big hit until the coronavirus pandemic is over. Semanson said there were plenty of unknowns in the future but she also saw positive responses from the community.
“This is something that's going to be difficult not just for the business owners, but the people that work there,” Semanson said. “This is uncharted territory for all of us, and trying to figure out how we support those businesses, how we support those individuals that work for those businesses, how long this is going to take and how we come out of it -- it's a lot of unknowns, which is kind of scary.
“But on the other hand, I've seen a lot of really encouraging outreach from the community trying to support each other and support those individuals and those businesses.”
One sector that is expected to be particularly impacted is restaurants. To help those businesses out, last week, commissioners approved a change that would allow selling packaged beer and wine to customers.
“It might not be what they are famous for, but it was something that we were able to do to help them somewhat,” Semanson said, “give them another revenue stream, allow them to keep serving some alcohol for the convenience of their customers and also reducing the number of trips out to other places.”
Over the weekend, there were a handful of restaurants that were selling mixed drinks, such as margaritas, in a cup to-go. Semanson said while the state allows beer and wine sales under emergency circumstances, it does not allow the sale of spirits. Those sales would mean the customer would then have an illegal open container of alcohol.
“That may be an opportunity for them to sell a make-your-own-at-home with their signature mix,” Semanson said. “That would be one way people could still have their margaritas to go.”
Working from home
As employers and employees are coming to grips with working from home, the county is no exception, and Semanson said county leaders have been looking at those issues for a few weeks now.
“We have been rolling people off to working from home and limiting the walk-up window face-to-face interchange with people, so we've already been addressing that, but the next level is only having essential personnel that would be on facilities and everybody else at home,” Semanson said.
With states of emergency at both the state and county levels, Semanson said there was more flexibility than usual in how to use county employees and funds.
“That's anything from how we're going to be using personnel in ways that we need to during this time just to get some critical stuff done and how we're able to use our financial instruments to get things done,” she said. “It opens things up for us to be more flexible and responsive.”