After reporting that they had been vaccinated and relaxing from mask wearing a few months ago, Statesboro’s mayor and City Council and administrative staff masked up again for Tuesday morning’s regular meeting.
City officials also voiced public appeals for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the number of cases rebounds and the delta variant proves especially contagious.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar reiterated a view he has expressed several times in past months, that opposition to vaccinations and other efforts to control and eliminate the disease results from political divisions.
“COVID-19 does not care anything about any belief you may have, what little barrier you may put up to divide you from another human being,” McCollar said. “COVID-19 does not care about that.”
The pandemic, he said, is affecting everyone, and getting vaccinated is the best way to “show allegiance” to the most vulnerable individuals in the community.
“If you are passionate about supporting law enforcement and first responders, the best thing you can do is get vaccinated,” McCollar said. “If you support small business and growing small business, the best thing your can do is get vaccinated. If you love this country, get vaccinated, because this thing is hurting us, and the long-term effects of this I shudder to think about.”
City Hall check-in
He alluded to criticism the city government has received about its practices regarding COVID-19 prevention efforts in its buildings. This was the subject of one resident’s letter to the editor published in the Statesboro Herald last week.
A contracted security guard, posted inside the front entrance to City Hall, checks in visitors – such as residents paying city utility bills or people attending council or other meetings – as they enter the building. The guard takes their temperatures using a pistol-type electronic thermometer, and the temperature is written on a form. The form also has a place for the visitor’s phone number.
Recently, the form has also included “Fully Vaccinated: Y … N,” to be checked, but asked after the meeting, City Manager Charles Penny the city cannot require anyone to answer the vaccination question, as a condition to entering or anything else. “Reason for Visit” with areas and functions of City Hall to be circled is another section of the form.
Signs on the front doors state: “Face Masks Required” and “Please Sanitize Your Hands,” and the city supplies disposable masks and hand sanitizer.
The mayor explained the intent of the procedure in his public remarks Tuesday.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have to do what we have to do, so when you come into City Hall, yes, we’re going to ask you to wear a mask, yes, we’re going to take your temperature, yes, we’re going to ask you where you’re going, because if you come in and get the virus in here we need to know where it came from, and if you was to pick it up while you were here, we need to be able to contact you and let you know that you’ve been exposed,” McCollar said.
From the time the first cases of the virus appeared in the community nearly a year and a half ago until Tuesday, Statesboro’s city government, with a few more than 300 employees, has had 60 employees contract COVID-19, he noted. Penny said the city has documented $154,000 worth of lost labor from people having to isolate until cleared as free of the virus.
The city requires its employees to wear masks inside buildings when they are meeting with other people, Penny noted.
“We are trying to protect you,” McCollar said to the public. “Sixty. Out of three hundred and ten employees, we’ve had sixty. So please, please, please, let’s do what’s safe. Let’s be logical and reasonable about this thing and let‘s all know that we’re in this fight together.”
He called COVID-19 “a common enemy” attacking America.
“We have to get real,” he continued. “We’ve got 27 people in the hospital right now with COVID-19; five of them are on ventilators.”
Those were the numbers from East Georgia Regional Medical Center in a report Monday from Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn..
District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr had been the first to speak on the topic during Tuesday’s meeting. As an active supporter of the volunteer group Bulloch County Squashing the Spread, she has often given updates about testing and vaccination sites.
After noting that people can go to Walmart, CVS and other pharmacy locations to be vaccinated at no cost to themselves, Barr said she especially wanted to draw attention to a couple of upcoming special efforts.
Only one of the three vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine, is available to youth ages 12-17 with parental permission, she noted. The Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce on South Main Street, which recently hosted a back-to-school event where the vaccine was administered, is planning an Aug. 14 follow-up event for those who got their first shot to get the second, she said.
Meanwhile, the Statesboro Youth Commission is planning an event this month at now reopened Luetta Moore Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive where a pop-up Pfizer vaccination site will also be available. This vaccine requires a second dose, so that would also be planned for September, Barr said. It will be available to adults, as well as youth 12 and up, she said.
Squashing the Spread noted a tapering off of the number of adults taking advantage of pop-up vaccination opportunities at supermarkets. But 40 people showed up and were vaccinated in three hours at the Chamber of Commerce back-to-school event, Barr reported.
“So there is a need out there for parents to know where they can safely take their children to be vaccinated,” she said.
Barr also said that a friend of hers who had been vaccinated months earlier was now isolating at home after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“So again, I encourage folks, if you haven’t yet, to go get your vaccine to protect yourself and other people,” Barr said. “If you are vaccinated wear your mask to protect other people, especially the vulnerable and children among us, who can get it, can get sick and have died in Georgia.”
City Hall pop-up?
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum asked if the city itself could host some vaccination times, with walk-ins welcomed, at City Hall or somewhere else downtown. He said this might be helpful for people who do not have internet access, since some pharmacy chains require setting up an appointment online.
Penny noted that the city previously provided on-site vaccinations for employees, right in the room where the council meets, and said he would look into whether hosting a public availability.