County launches hotline as virus fears grip nation
By Sarah Cavacini
Palatka Daily News
Putnam County officials declared a state of emergency Friday night due to coronavirus fears.
The Board of County Commissioners had an emergency meeting 6 p.m. Friday, where they voted 3-0 to enact the state of emergency. Commissioners Bill Pickens and Terry Turner were absent.
The state of emergency will be in effect until March 20, after which time commissioners will determine whether to extend or end it.
President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency Friday afternoon, adding to the state of emergency Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted earlier this month for Florida.
Alachua, Clay, St. Johns and Volusia counties have been affected by the COVID-19, the scientific name for coronavirus.
“We all have a role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and modifying personal behaviors protects individuals and our community. At this time, Putnam County has no confirmed positive COVID-19 cases,” Mary Garcia, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Putnam County, said in a statement Friday.
The Putnam Community Medical Center has started screening people entering the hospital by asking a few questions such as:
n Do you have respiratory issues?
n Have you recently traveled internationally?
n Have you been exposed to anyone who may have coronavirus symptoms?
Putnam County Emergency Services Chief Quin Romay said a call center will be open 8 a.m. – 5p.m. Monday through Friday for people who have questions regarding the virus. The center was not open as of press time Friday but is planned to open next week.
For more information, emergency services 329-0379.
“This is something that’s uncharted territory for everybody,” Romay said.
The virus has also brought court proceedings to a halt. Seventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Raul A. Zambrano said the state Supreme Court mandated civil, criminal and jury trial court procedures be halted until at least March 27.
He said the state court order suggests there could be further postponements of court proceedings, but it is not certain where the closure would need to be extended.
“All jurors summoned for that time period are excused,” Zambrano said.
Many Putnam County events have been canceled due to the virus. The Putnam County Fair, Touch-a-Truck and the Catfish Festival were shut down amid COVID-19 fears.
Voting will still go as planned for Putnam County and Tuesday’s polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at locations throughout the county. For a list of polling places, visit soe.putnam-fl.com
During the meeting, County Commissioner Larry Harvey said while the virus seems to be causing panic, it is best for everyone to remain calm.
“The county is sufficiently able to handle this and we’re moving forward,” Harvey said. “Be calm and pray for our community.”
News Editor Brandon D. Oliver contributed to this story.