BRISTOL, Tenn. — Bristol Tennessee City Council was briefed by city staff on how government operations have changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at a teleconferenced called meeting Thursday afternoon.
The meeting was focused entirely on how city government is responding to the pandemic, how council will continue to proceed with its business and what can be done to keep the community safe from a viral surge. To avoid potential spread of COVID-19, which had reached 4 confirmed cases in Sullivan County and one confirmed case in Bristol, Virginia as of Thursday, the meeting was held remotely over the chat app Zoom, and it was broadcast live on the city’s YouTube channel and on cable TV.
City Manager Bill Sorah told council they currently have 13 employees quarantined as a precaution because they have traveled outside of the community or were visited by people who had. He said they had referred those employees to the Sullivan County Department of Health.
Some employees have also started telecommuting, though some, like police officers and fire fighters, are still physically showing up. Employees that are still physically reporting for duty are subjected to a daily screening, where they are asked if they have difficulty breathing or a cough and have their temperature is taken.
Sorah also talked about police, fire and emergency medical services in the city and said that city police experienced a slight increase in domestic calls.
“We have seen a slight uptick in really the same type of calls we see during the Christmas season; in other words, when people are together a long time in a confined space, we may see more calls for domestic issues,” Sorah said.
But he also said that, with the exception of Wednesday, there was an overall decline in calls for fire and emergency medical services from last week. He added that city EMS responded to multiple incidents where individuals displayed symptoms similar to COVID-19, but in all those cases, the individuals only had the flu.
Council also has to get into budget mode, Sorah said.
“As you’ve heard me speak a number of times … we have lived on sales tax. Sales tax has been very good to us,” Sorah said. “No one knows when that’s coming back.”
A decline in sales tax revenues is expected due to many retail businesses temporarily closing, as some have at The Pinnacle, and fewer people going out shopping. Sorah said he has worked very closely with the city’s finance department to figure out what the city will need to pay for and what revenue will look like for the upcoming fiscal year.
On the recommendation of Councilwoman Lea Powers, council also agreed to set two more called meetings on Monday and Thursday next week for updates on the COVID-19 situation.