Story by STACY MARTIN
On Monday, March 16, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) held an emergency meeting to provide the public and the BCC with updated information regarding the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis.
The meeting began with addressing how the county was moving forward in attempts to address the virus and “The bottom line is we want to stay as far ahead of this crisis as we can,” said County Administrator Larry Jones.
The first recommendation made to the board was to declare a Local State of Emergency. This declaration will relax the procurement requirements, which will provide reimbursement from FEMA and provide flexibility in canceling nonessential public meetings. The motion was carried unanimously.
A list presented to the BCC requested the following items be approved:
• To suspend all employees out-of-county travel without special permission from county director and administration.
• Cancel and suspend all permitted outdoor event and beach activities
• The suspension of the rental of all county facilities
• End driving on the beach permits until August 1.
• Begin driving on the beach lottery process on June 1.
• Extend dog-on-the beach permits by eight weeks.
• Suspend all permit applications until June 1.
The motion to approve the listed items was approved unanimously by the council. After the vote, Jones introduced to the board Tony Corman who is the new Director of Code Enforcement.
Continuing with items on the agenda, the BCC voted to adjust selected planning meetings to alternate dates, which will be posted on the county’s website, and a recommendation was also made to cancel all other volunteer boards and committees until May 1. The council voted in favor of supporting both items noting that meeting adjustments did not apply to the regular BCC meetings, that for now, will still take place as scheduled.
The council recommended to all the citizens, visitors, and businesses to follow the directives and recommendations set forth by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
In regard to the Local State of Emergency declaration, Chairman Bill Chapman stated that every seven days, they (BCC) have to allow it to dissipate or reinstitute the declaration.
The council will readdress the declaration again on the regular BCC Tuesday, March 24 meeting, which according to the ordinance, allows for the Chairman or the administrator to extend it out an additional seven days. Chapman stated, “We just want to let you know that this won’t expire anytime soon.”
Opening the floor to public comments Holly Holt, RN, Director of WCHD, gave an update stating that in the state of Florida, there are 131 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus and currently zero cases in Walton County. She also states that there is going to be an increase in testing availability within the community, which is still in the planning stages, and as soon as more information and access are available. Jeff Goldberg, the Walton County Emergency Management (WCEM) Director, stated to the council that updates are happening on a daily basis. Current emergency operating centers at a level two-partial activation – which is defined as monitoring an active event working with local agencies and organizations. One issue Goldberg discussed is the WCEM working with businesses in monitoring commodity issues such as regulating the number of supplies each customer can purchase.
Heather Duncan, a representative of AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, approached the council for public comment. Duncan informed the council of the proactive measures AJ’s is taking by converting to all disposable items in their restaurant. They will also be operating a pick-up menu for customers who do not have to stay. Duncan stated that they have removed barstools to keep with the 6-feet of separation.
DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell approached the council to discuss ideas on a necessary meeting where there could be 50 or more people, to hold them in an open area amphitheater or at a community center with set tables and chairs spaced out in an attempt to comply with social distancing.
Final remarks made by Chapman to the board stated that this situation is fluid and changes every couple of hours. If something major takes place, the council is advised to expect another emergency meeting for discussion.
Jones also remarked that “This is the county’s top priority “ and stated that “We want to make sure that the things that you voted on today get top priority, and as we learn new things we add them into the mix as well.”