Spurred by concerns about the coronavirus, Conway City Council declared a state of emergency Saturday afternoon, a decision that will likely close some public buildings — including the city’s recreation center — change the format for upcoming council meetings and could suspend the city’s youth sports programs.
Although there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Horry County, city officials said they need to take precautions to keep their staff and the public safe. The council held a conference call Saturday to discuss the issue. The declaration will last 60 days.
“It’s coming and it’s imminent,” city administrator Adam Emrick said of the virus, which began spreading in China last year and recently arrived in South Carolina. “We need to buckle down and get ready for it.”
City officials said they are still finalizing plans, but Conway’s recreation center could be closed as early as Monday. If that happens, other public buildings would likely also close or have limited access.
A council meeting scheduled for Monday has also been cancelled, and city officials plan to change the format for upcoming meetings during the state of emergency. Emrick said there could be a video of the council meetings broadcast to the public and some council members might participate in those meetings via teleconference to limit contact. He said the city is searching for a way to allow for public input, possibly through submitted comments.
“There is not an easy way to do this and we’ve got to try and figure this out,” he said.
During the meeting, Emrick was asked if the council should encourage businesses to take similar precautions.
“I don’t want to tell businesses how to do their jobs,” he said, adding that many are already making adjustments.
Along with those potential changes, Emrick said the city is adjusting some employee schedules. Some workers may do their jobs from home and participate via technology. Public safety services will not change.
The city is also considering a hiring freeze, although Emrick said any crucial vacancies would be filled.
“For us to be able to do our jobs and protect our citizens, we have to be able to protect our employees,” he said.
Council members generally agreed with Emrick’s recommendations, though councilman William Goldfinch questioned the need to cancel youth sports if local schools remain open. So far, the only South Carolina public schools that have closed are in Kershaw and Lancaster counties. The S.C. High School League expects to make a decision Monday about the prep sports season.
Goldfinch said he understands the severity of the situation, but outdoor sports provide some semblance of normalcy.
“When do we get back to life?” he asked. “Life does have to carry on.”
“I don’t know the longevity of this thing,” Emrick replied. “We’re kind of three weeks behind the curve. We’re playing catch-up.”
However, Emrick said he would instruct the city’s head of parks, recreation and tourism to consult with school officials before deciding whether to suspend youth sports.
“We hope this is all an extraordinary overreaction,” Emrick said, though he added that from what he’s seen “the only way to limit this thing is to extraordinarily overreact.”
Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Friday and Horry County officials followed suit on Saturday. Emrick said city officials knew they should be careful after seeing the cancellation of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the postponement of The Masters and the closure of Disneyland.
“For us not to act in kind, I think, would be remiss,” he said.
Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy stressed that this is an unprecedented situation.
“We’ve never known anything like it,” she said.