On Thursday, March 12, Governor Asa Hutchinson made an announcement that public schools in Jefferson, Pulaski, Saline, Lonoke and Faulkner Counties were closing. On that day we learned that Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) had come to Central Arkansas.
Pulaski County leadership went into immediate action. County Judge Barry Hyde, County Attorney Adam Fogleman and Chief of Staff/Chief Financial Officer Mike Hutchens put a plan in place to restrict building access and communicate with department supervisors about implementing continuity plans. The first executive order was filed March 13 to restrict access to all county buildings.
As the virus progressed and moved through the county and the state, Judge Hyde continued to communicate with the county medical officer, Tobias Vancil, M.D. on best practices. Hyde has extended his original order three times since the first filing and continues to monitor the environment.
“We’ve definitely learned a lot through this public health crisis in terms of how to improve communication across departments and divisions,” County Judge Barry Hyde said. “When the news broke of the first cases, my first priority was to the people that work and visit our buildings. It took some adjustments but we [judges, county elected officials, quorum court members] made those adjustments together.”
In addition to communicating with employees, Pulaski County began to communicate with residents through social media, Nextdoor and email.
“I must acknowledge the work of the Arkansas Department of Health and Department of Emergency Management that reach a vast majority of county residents with their COVID messaging,” Communications Director Cozetta Jones said. “The county has focused on the unincorporated areas such as Ferndale, Woodson, Higgins and North Pulaski County. Having strong relationships with those communities makes it easier to get the word out.”
Pulaski County will continue to restrict access to county buildings through May 17 and has implemented additional policies to further protect its employees. All employees who enter county buildings are required to wear masks at all times and security guards take the temperature of those employees; no one enters with a temperature of 100.4 or higher.
“It’s not over,” said Hyde. “Governor Hutchinson has relaxed some restrictions in Arkansas but as Public Health Officials have stated, it’s important that we continue to social distance and wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible,” he said. “We will get through this, but we must do it responsibly and with care.”