Written By : Logan Fitts
These are two cities in Georgia that see an influx in people from all over. These are cities that we see a lot of visitors come from. These are the cities that I travel to often. These are also the cities that have went under quarantine since COVID-19 has hit the state.
Since this initial post, Murphy NC has went on full lock-down and curfew in light of discovering that visitors were sick with the virus. Mind you, Murphy is only 20 miles from Blue Ridge.
I want to make a few remarks.
First, I have talked to quite a few city leaders and asked questions:
What can we do? What’s the plan? Can you close the downtown district? Can we limit or begin to dwindle the amount of foot traffic coming into our city and county, as this is a hot destination for Spring Break? I’ve asked many times: “So, what can be done?”
These are the answers thus far:
I’ve had one city leader tell me that they have no control, I’ve had a leader tell me that it is illegal to tell downtown business owners to close their doors, I’ve had one tell me that the Governor has given discretion to each county/city to make decisions up to this point about protocol, and this leader told me that they don’t feel like downtown needs to close at this time, but restaurants should do curbside pickups.
I’ve even had another concerned citizen of Blue Ridge tell me that their answer they’ve received from our very own Speaker Ralston is that at this point, it is up to our leaders in the area to make decisions at the discretion of the charter. Understandable — not verified.***
I ended up feeling even more lost. Who’s telling the truth? Does anyone know what protocol is? This is an unprecedented situation.
I’ve watched town like a hawk. Groceries stores have been covered up, go figure. Rentals are packed, so we have out of town visitors buying groceries, we have second home owners buying groceries (some being my past clients), we have full time locals buying groceries — all understandable and we all know that going to these places you must practice caution and there are ways to keep your space to protect your health. And I have to note, grocery stores are having to evolve with the situation and look out for clientele. They’re having to close early to sanitize. They’re changing hours. They’re recognizing the situation at hand.
I’ve also watched Downtown Blue Ridge. I’ve driven the streets. I’ve watched hundreds of pedestrians go up and down throughout the week. I find myself getting irritated when I go through, but remind myself that they’re on vacation. They feel anonymous. There’s less of a sense of responsibility when it’s not your home, and I get it to a certain point. But I also know that we have people coming here because it is quiet and removed and it feels safer. I know of friends of mine that are from this area that have traveled to Florida to take advantage of the break to attempt to vacation and use the Coronavirus to their advantage and find great deals on lodging, shopping, dining, etc (they know my stance on their travels). Many of the places they’re at in Florida are closing commercial activity, which leads me to my next point.
At this point, with little to no safeguards on the biggest red flag in the area, Blue Ridge is not a safe area to be in should this virus run rampant. A few things to note: downtown has two public restrooms equipped with hand dryers (recommended not to be used by many articles I’ve read). Downtown’s business owners, as I’ve learned in my time, don’t particularly want shoppers using their facilities. I also know there’s a huge shortage in sanitary equipment in the area and at a certain point, individual stores can’t provide each shopper or diner sanitizer, soap, wipes, etc. (Maybe they have stocks in what I’ve mentioned and can keep up in the cleaning and sanitizing of patrons, but I doubt it). Most stores in the downtown area are not more than 1500 square feet (total rough estimate). Allow enough people in the store at the right moment, one person sneezes and doesn’t know they have the virus, the whole store can be contaminated without even knowing it. Our county and the surrounding counties’ hospitals and medical campuses are not ready for a virus like this. Bottom line.
I want to say this to all of my fellow business owners, self-employers, service staff, to my friends, family, and clients: I am by no means trying to come off harsh. I am SO sorry that this is unfolding. I would love to support, and will continue to support small businesses throughout the town.
But I say that to say this. I know people will come and go throughout the coming weeks. I know that we can’t stop them, nor do I think we should. BUT, I certainly think that there has to be dialogue. There has to be a plan. There has to be answers to MANY concerned citizens’ questions other than the simple answer “we have a plan.” That’s one of the joys of small town America, right? We all know what’s going on. 😉 AND I ask, I don’t know what anyone else’s stance is, for this to be something done on and off Facebook. Let the elders know. Let the people who don’t use social media know. Keep everyone informed.
I want to conclude my persistence on this matter. While many bigger cities and counties are erring on the side of caution but not stringency for retail, for dessert houses, cafes, for gyms, or even offices until there’s a confirmed case in the area, Blue Ridge is different. These bigger cities have a stronger infrastructure. They have bigger hospitals, more staff, more equipment, they’re better prepared. This is not to belittle our hospital workers, nurses, pharmacists, sanitary personnel, etc., but to state what’s been the consensus from my friends and family in those fields and across the globe. These cities might have the safeguards to wait until they dreadfully find out that they have a confirmed case. Unfortunately, I think Blue Ridge has to be more proactive.
In terms of solutions, here are my thoughts.
I know it’s almost impossible to ask any business to close to foot traffic. I know it’s difficult on the owners, the staff, the patrons. I know that leaders don’t want to harm businesses. They don’t want to be the ones to make that call, if they can. Understandable. Who would want to make that call? So maybe not go there at this point. Maybe monitor the area. How many patrons are in each store? Maybe provide sanitizing stations throughout the area (this could’ve been done a long time ago when we first saw the virus hit Georgia). Maybe post signs warning people what already should be instilled in their brains: STAY HOME. Or “Caution: this is a high risk area should a pedestrian have COVID-19.” per CDC, President Trump, the whole 9.
So I resolute to this: city & county leaders, where are we with this? What is your answer to the big problem that seems to be (UNDERSTANDABLY) avoided? Can we count on you to make decisions for the well-being of the majority? We need leaders.
I don’t have all of the answers; I may not have any answers.
But I have a lot of concerns. And I have a lot of love for my hometown and my people.
**Editor’s Note** This opinion was originally written and shared via Facebook. You can read the original post by clicking here : Logan Fitts Original Post
Mayor Donna Whitener also responded via the City of Blue Ridge Facebook page. You can read the official response by clicking here: City of Blue Ridge Response