The city of Lebanon is now in a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
Effective Monday, restaurants and bars have closed their dining areas, gyms and fitness centers have been shut down and social gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited until further notice.
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash signed the executive order on Sunday using emergency powers granted by Gov. Bill Lee. His decision comes shortly after the Lebanon City Council approved city hall’s response plan.
“We’d been discussing this possibility for several days,” Ash said. “On Sunday, I called a few of my top people in and we decided since the governor had declared a state of emergency we should go ahead with it.”
In addition to measures aimed at preventing spread, the order allows the city to manage funds as deemed necessary to combat the virus. Ash said officials are monitoring the situation daily to determine what that could mean.
“We’re taking it day by day, and in some cases minute by minute,” he said. “We’re looking at the number of confirmed cases each day, paying attention to state and federal data and keeping in contact with people at the state level and nationally.”
Although most locations are not mandated to close under the order, the virus is expected to impact the local economy as people spend more time inside and businesses scale back operations.
“These first few days are a time for businesses to decide who has to do what and when,” Ash said. “Grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and more are still open, but we’re encouraging people to use common sense. We do need to keep the economy going, so if you’re able, help our local businesses out by going to them when you need goods and services.”
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is one of the eateries closing its dining area, and owner Ron Burkett said that has added to COVID-19’s impact on operations.
“Last week I was selling 40% of what I usually do,” he said. “I had seven employees and now I have three. I’d love to be able to hire them back, but there’s so much uncertainty about where our economy is going to be even months from now.”
Burkett said lunch orders on Monday were about 20% of the usual amount, despite the location having drive-through service and an app for online orders.
“I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I still have mediums to reach customers, and there are several places that don’t.”
Honey Baked Ham is also seeing less business after closing its dining area, though it still offers curbside pickup and call-in orders.
“For us, it’s really slowed down a lot,” employee Brenda Erkenbrack said. “Some of our employees are younger too, and their parents are worried about them being exposed to the virus.”
In the meantime, customers are being kept outside except for a small section of the lobby used to pick up orders and serve themselves tea.
“All the food is prepared in the back,” Erkenbrack said. “As far as sanitation, we’ve done the best we can with what we have. We’ve ordered additional cleaning supplies and we’re making sure everything is wiped down … we want to make sure everyone stays healthy.”
Some businesses, like J. Clayborn’s Bakery, have made the decision to close entirely until the virus runs its course.
“In compliance with Mayor Ash’s executive order, we feel that it’s in the best interest for the health of our employees, families and amazing customers to do our part in trying to slow the spread of COVID-19,” bakery staff said in a statement released on Facebook. “We look forward to serving our neighbors again once this passes. In the meantime, please continue to pray for our healthcare workers who are on the frontlines, our community and our leaders.”
The Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce is posting regular social media updates about business activity during the state of emergency, including closures.
Chamber President Melanie Minter said there are several ways for citizens to safely help local businesses affected by the pandemic.
“I would definitely stay connected with your favorite businesses,” she said. “Look on their Facebook pages and ask questions about how you can support them. I’d also recommend people go online for shopping or to purchase gift cards, and to take advantage of curbside pickup at restaurants.”
At press time, Lebanon is the county’s only local government to have issued a state of emergency. Mt. Juliet released a statement on its website asking the community to follow Gov. Lee’s executive orders, while Watertown has closed its city hall to the public. Phone lines and services will remain active.
“This is a crucial time for small businesses, and we ask our community to be kind, pray for recovery and be a neighbor,” Minter said. “As a county, we’re known for our unique businesses, but we also have a generous spirit that’s going to shine through this.”