With Lane County’s first confirmed case on Tuesday of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), authorities in Cottage Grove have implemented preparations while certain services have been restricted in accordance with health authority recommendations.
While the State of Oregon and Lane County have declared states of emergency, however, the City of Cottage Grove has yet to take that step.
“We’re running under the Lane County emergency because Lane County and the county commissioners are the board of health for the entire county,” said City Manager Richard Meyers. “We’ve been thinking about it, we’ve talked about it and we don’t think we need to. But if something else happens or we need to do something that is beyond health in order to make sure things happen right, then we’d probably move that direction.”
In keeping with health authority guidelines, the city is testing out a virtual meeting system this week to facilitate the continued operation of public meetings.
Monday night’s City Council meeting is set to proceed on schedule, but without the presence of city leaders. The council chambers will be open to the public, equipped with speakers and a microphone for public comment as city councilors conduct the meeting through the online service GoToMeeting.
Space in the chamber, however, will be limited to allow for required social distancing.
Certain agenda items such as a discussion about parklets have also been postponed for later dates to encourage greater public participation.
City Hall remains open for the time being, but the city has discussed plans to restrict access depending on the severity of a possible future outbreak.
Meanwhile, City Councilor Jake Boone has preemptively elected to self-quarantine for two weeks after a trip to Washington, D.C. last week as part of an Oregon delegation to the National League of Cities’ Congressional Cities Conference.
Following a day on Capitol Hill, Boone learned the Capitol was subsequently closed to the public after a staffer was confirmed to have COVID-19.
“I decided I would err on the side of caution rather than be the guy that brings it home,” said Boone. “It’s incumbent on me to make sure I’m not helping the thing spread because, while it may just leave me with an annoying cough, older folks or people with immunodeficiencies — it can kill them with very little difficulty.”
Boone hoped his decision would serve as a precautionary tale for the rest of the community.
“If you suspect you have it or that you might have it, self-quarantine and take it seriously,” he said. “Don’t do it half-way. Do it completely. Because that’s how we’re going to stop this thing.”
Otherwise, the regular operations of city infrastructure remain relatively unchanged besides the implementation of extra precautions.
While the city was informed that the coronavirus can survive through the city’s wastewater collection system, Meyers said, it does not survive the treatment process. Employees at the plant have been instructed to wear protective equipment and turn down the force of some machinery to reduce risk from splash or airborne particles.
Meyers also assured that drinking water will remain unaffected.
“The drinking water that we provide will still remain safe drinking water and we are preparing to make sure that continues,” he said.
On the issue of water disconnection notices for those behind payment on their water bills, Meyers recommending following the city’s usual protocol: contact the city.
“If there are some [bills] that are going to be difficult, we will work them and set up a payment plan to do that,” he said.
Pacific Power, meanwhile, announced on March 12 that the electricity provider “is temporarily suspending disconnections and late fees for non-payment for customers in Oregon, Washington and California to support the state of emergency declared in all three states in response to the COVID-19 virus.”
Other area electricity providers Emerald People’s Utility District and Lane Electric Cooperative did not respond to calls regarding their disconnection policy in light of the outbreak, though both providers recommend on their websites that customers use electronic or telephone options whenever possible in lieu of visiting the offices in person.
Following Lane County Public Health guidelines, the Cottage Grove Police Department is also taking steps to minimize risk, though Police Chief Scott Shepherd assured that the essential service will continue as usual.
“One of our biggest concerns is just trying to keep everybody healthy,” said Shepherd. “We clean surfaces that are heavily used and we pay attention to our own personal hygiene and try to limit exposure.”
Policing tactics in dealing with offenders have changed only slightly to accommodate the threat of the virus, Shepherd noted.
“If it’s somebody who is not a habitual offender and we don’t think would be a nuisance to the public, we’re opting to issue citations rather than physical custody,” he said. “But that’s a case-by-case basis.”
Cells in the Cottage Grove Municipal Jail house single individuals and the department is continuing to monitor inmates’ conditions.
Shepherd added that citizens with issues which don’t require face-to-face interactions are asked to call the police department instead.
Emergency responders with South Lane County Fire & Rescue, too, are continuing to follow guidance documents provided by the Oregon Health Authority and Lane County Public Health such as screening practices, illness recognition and wearing personal protective equipment.
Public transportation in Cottage Grove, however, was faced with disruption when Lane Transit District (LTD) announced Monday that, beginning March 17, the Cottage Grove Connector service would be canceled until further notice. The limited Saturday fixed route schedules to Cottage Grove are to be implemented on weekdays instead.
“We all need to do our part to reduce everyone’s risk to the coronavirus,” said Aurora Jackson, LTD’s general manager in a press release. “In addition, LTD’s team continues to clean the buses every day with high-powered disinfectants and other cleaning protocols.”
When riding the bus, LTD suggests riders follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce the exposure and spread of the coronavirus.
Though the LTD Connector service is suspended, local transportation nonprofit South Lane Wheels will continue its “Door-to-Door” service for the time being.
Other local services such as the Cottage Grove Public Library and Community Center are slated to remain closed until March 30 and events in the building have all been canceled, though the city is looking into delivery options for those wanting to check out books of the library, said Meyers. The Cottage Grove Armory, too, is closed until April 13.
Virtual meeting instructions for public meetings are to be provided at the top of the respective agenda pages on the city’s website at cottagegrove.org.
Questions about COVID-19 can be answered by visiting Lane County Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority websites or by calling the Lane County Public Health Community Call Center line at 541-682-1380.