By Tom Travis
In an evolving response during two press conferences Thursday, Mayor Sheldon Neeley declared Flint is under a “citywide emergency health alert” because of the coronavirus and announced residences that have had their water shut off will be reconnected.
No cases in Flint yet
Noting that no coronavirus cases have yet been documented in the city, Neeley said,
“We are trying to prepare in the event that there is a full outbreak in our community. We are working hard to make sure services will not be interrupted but we will modify how we do services.”
The emergency declaration makes the city eligible for federal, state and county funds to respond, in what Neeley declared will be a “proactive fight” against the spread of the virus.
In a text message responding to follow-up questions from East Village Magazine, city communications director Marjory Raymer clarified gaining access to the funds will be a process with additional agencies to identify the opportunities and dollar amounts. Officials at all levels still are determining what those amounts might be.
Neeley stressed the emergency funds will be used to for activities and services to protect residents’ health and welfare.
One crucial use of the funds will be to reconnect residences to city water that had previously been shut off, Neeley said. Noting that having water in the home is critical for everyday life like bathing babies, he declared, “We are working on that reconnection plan.”
Neeley further explained the additional monies will be spent to make sure first responders have all the equipment they need to safely engage and help people and to assure they are not contaminated by the virus.
Also, the money will assure the city can continue water service for all residents and not shutting off water service.
Neeley noted no water shut-offs have occurred in the city in the last five months.
He emphasized any reconnections to water service will only be to occupied homes. He said, “This is not a free-for-all where people can just get reconnected. The resident must live and occupy the residence.”
Joining Mayor Neeley was longtime Flint pediatrician Lawrence Reynolds, who Neeley said is serving the city of Flint in an advisory capacity. Reynolds is former president and CEO of the Mott Children’s Health Center in Flint.
Called upon to comment, Reynolds said, “We may say something today but have to step it up tomorrow. It is a rapidly evolving situation. This is my first pandemic….I’m sure it’s everyone’s first pandemic in America.”
McClendon “is seeing that it will not shut down unless we have a full outbreak,” Neeley said. “We are seeing that City Hall will not shut down and we are able to protect residents.”
Water bill online fee payments to be waived
“We want people to continue to pay their water bills but we will modify that payment process by encouraging online payment services. In addition, we will waive all fees to online payment service. If checks are brought in for bill payments we ask the public to use the drop box to avoid contact with city staff and the transmission of the virus,” he said.
City Council meetings will continue, other meetings cancelled
Some details in the afternoon press conference changed from a press conference earlier in the day. In the morning press conference city officials said there would be no city council meetings. But by this afternoon, Neeley said in fact there will be city council meetings, continuing as scheduled.
However, except for the city council, all City Hall meetings of 30 or more will cease.
Neeley reminded the public that residents have to do their part too, and pleaded with residents to continue to pay what they can on their water bills.
To lighten the mood, Neeley suggested residents sing the “Happy Birthday” song or their favorite BeeGees tune while washing their hands to make sure they get in the required 20 seconds of washing that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests.
Neeley said he wanted to assure the public the city is prepared to respond. “We have trained individuals in many different capacities if we have to advance this to a full emergency,” he said.
“This is a time when we can all come together as a community,” Neeley concluded. “This is a time when we can stick together through a crisis situation.”
Additional information is available in previous EVM articles concerning the coronavirus here.
The second press conference with Mayor Neeley can be viewed on the City of Flint Facebook page.
Banner photo: coronavirus image from the CDC.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.