APACHE COUNTY – As the novel Coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, begins to close in on the White Mountains, some cities in Apache County have begun to make plans to help protect their residents.
In St. Johns, there are currently no official proclamations or plans by the city to address the Coronavirus outside of abiding by current state and national guidelines.
“We had to cancel the barrel racing,” Cindy Lee, the deputy city clerk, confirmed. Rentals, permits, and events involving city property, such as buildings and park space, have also been cancelled to adhere to CDC and World Health Organization recommendations, but offices that serve the public remain open.
In contrast to St. Johns, Eagar issued a proclamation to their residents, deeming the COVID-19 threat an emergency situation. This declaration of emergency gives the town the ability to ask for state and federal assistance and also gives Mayor the power to address coronavirus issues quickly with further proclamations to keep up with the situation as it changes. These powers could include imposing curfews and closing businesses and public spaces if the need arises. Defying any element of the emergency proclamation could result in misdemeanor charges.
Currently, Eagar has closed off future town council meetings to the general public, cancelled all town-sponsored events, and cancelled and refunded all rentals of town facilities. Ramsey Park and the racquetball court have also been closed to the public. All out-of-state travel for town employees has been suspended, but otherwise, it will be business as usual for town employees.
“If we get a confirmed case in Apache county, then there’s a possibility that might change,” Elwin Browning, the interim town manager for Eagar, said about town offices remaining open. “But there’s not been a confirmed case, and so that’s the way the mayor’s proceeding with it right now.”
The letter issued by the town of Springerville took a slightly different approach to addressing their residents. Instead of a proclamation of actions, the letter – issued by the town fire department and Mayor Phil Hanson – addressed the public on the recommended ways to keep safe, and how to access and work with emergency services during the pandemic.
The letter suggested that those individuals who are severely ill should not come to fire stations or emergency rooms directly but should call 911 instead. Once connected to a 911 operator, they will be asked a set of questions to assess the likelihood that the person may have been exposed to the virus. This process better prepares emergency personnel so that they have the necessary protective equipment they will need to respond to the call, keeping them healthy and able to continue to serve the community. “Unfortunately, firefighters in other communities have already been quarantined for exposure to COVID-19; we cannot afford to have any of our personnel unable to work,” the letter stated.
Not date, no changes have been made to Springerville town council meetings or town office hours. “As the situation evolves, we will re-evaluate and make changes if we feel they are necessary,” Town Clerk Kelsi Miller said by email.
Amber Shepard is a local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.