The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution declaring a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 at a special called meeting Monday, following Wilson County’s own declaration at noon the same day.
Under the resolutions, social gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited, and dine-in areas of restaurants and bars are required to close. Gyms and exercise facilities are also closed until further notice, while nursing homes, assisted living facilities and regional health facilities are closed to visitors.
The order also authorizes both governing bodies to appropriate and expend public funds, enter contracts and incur obligations and hire permanent and temporary employees as deemed necessary to address COVID-19.
“It is important to note that each entity within county government is its own jurisdiction,” Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said in a statement announcing the order. “This is why you will see cities and counties declaring a state of emergency. The county’s jurisdiction does not supersede the cities.”
According to Hutto, his powers in a state of emergency include evacuating unincorporated communities, suspending processes in order to receive aid more quickly and managing county-owned buildings except for the jail, courthouse and landfill.
The Wilson County Courthouse has been closed to the public and will remain available by phone to provide essential services, while hospitals and nursing homes are implementing a no visitor policy.
Additional county-level closures include libraries, public and private schools, most courts, the Wilson County Expo Center, the James E. Ward Agricultural Center, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Wilson County Veteran’s Museum.
“I am most thankful our elected leaders passed and implemented the state of emergency,” Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin said of the city’s own decision. “It is an essential step for our city that enables the mayor and me to make necessary and needed decisions without the delay or the need to have our elected body meet in a special emergency session. This saves crucial and critical time on many levels.”
Martin added that before the state of emergency was declared, Mt. Juliet had already closed its facilities, implemented CDC guidelines and started working with local, state and federal agencies on a response plan.
“We are conducting daily briefings with FEMA, TEMA, WEMA and other medical professionals,” he said. “Conference calls between task force leaders in Wilson County, city staff and elected officials are occurring daily. We are following guidance from Gov. Lee and President Trump’s daily briefings in conjunction with researching all updates and incoming data from the Health Department and CDC.”
In addition, the city announced a new webpage — www.safemtjuliet.com — aimed at providing information and resources about the virus to residents. Cpt. Tyler Chandler of the Mt. Juliet Police Department is overseeing the page.
“As we deal with COVID-19, different precautions will come out, and we want to make sure there’s a one stop shop for our residents to see those guidelines,” he said. “We’re also working with our local restaurants … so we placed on there a list of restaurants still offering delivery, curbside pickup and carry out.”
Along with an overview of city and state level restrictions, information about the virus from health officials and a restaurant directory, the website offers multiple services for community members.
“As people start staying in their homes, many are looking for help or wanting to help others,” Chandler said. “We put up a link to the Nextdoor Help Map, which is an interactive map of neighborhoods showing where people are in need and who can help them. We chose Nextdoor because it’s a verified service, so the people you connect with are real members of the community.”
Nextdoor users can connect to arrange services like grocery pickups to help at-risk neighbors get what they need while staying at home. Safe Mt. Juliet also offers outreach specific to senior citizens, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We’re worried about our senior citizens who are stuck at home, so we have registration forms on there for our Senior Call Check program,” Chandler said.
Program participants will receive a daily check-in call from the Mt. Juliet Police Department between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., with two additional calls if they do not answer. If a participant still cannot be reached, an alternative contact they selected when enrolling will be notified and asked to check on them.
Residents can also use the page to report possible health and safety violations of any COVID-19 policies enforced by the state or local government.
Watertown has not declared a state of emergency as of Wednesday afternoon, but has closed city hall to the public. Mayor Mike Jennings has asked residents to follow the CDC’s guidelines and is continuing to monitor the situation.
Residents in areas under a state of emergency should expect to follow those guidelines until further notice as officials track the spread of COVID-19.
“We will continue to extend the state of emergency until we are confident it can and should be lifted based on sound and confirmed information from local health officials, Gov. Lee and his team, President Trump and his team and the CDC,” Martin said. “It is our mission and No. 1 goal to keep our citizens safe. So, until we have received verified and confirmed information that conditions have drastically improved … the order will remain in place.”