Local City Halls and cultural centers are bracing for COVID-19 coronavirus – some with cleaning and a wait-and-see approach and others with event postponements.
As of March 11, Dunwoody planned to go ahead with a “State of the City” address scheduled for March 12, while Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ similar event, scheduled the same day, was postponed. And the Atlanta City Council was preparing to host virtual meetings online.
The Atlanta History Center has postponed a new festival in April, while the Buckhead Theatre continues to host concerts and shows while offering sanitizers to guests, among other preparations. The city of Sandy Springs, which has a combined City Hall, theater and event facility, has made cleaning changes, too.
The local preparations come amid growing national moves to close major events voluntarily or otherwise. On March 11, the NCAA announced that its men’s basketball tournament, including the Final Four Championship scheduled for the April 4 weekend in Atlanta, will be played without a general audience, in what will be a blow to hotels in Buckhead and elsewhere.
Among the nonprofit organizations postponing events is Brookhaven-based Jerusalem House, which was scheduled to hold its 30th annual fundraiser celebration March 26 at the Intercontinental Buckhead hotel. “After careful consideration of the developments related to the Coronavirus, we have decided it is in the best interest of our residents, staff and attendees to reschedule the luncheon,” said Jerusalem House President and CEO Charlie Frew on the organization’s website.
For the latest information about the new coronavirus, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov.
City of Atlanta
Atlanta’s “State of the City,” a major event featuring a speech from Bottoms scheduled for a downtown hotel, was postponed at the request of the Coca-Cola Company, a major sponsor, due to coronavirus concerns. It came the same day Bottoms announced a grace period on water shutoffs for unpaid bills due to coronavirus preparations.
And City Council President Felicia Moore announced an experiment in teleworking and virtual meeting.
“The procedures are designed to ensure that council meetings are accessible to residents and council members can maintain communication with their staff and constituents if City Hall is closed,” a council press release said.
A mock meeting on March 12 with members inside their City Hall offices will test an electronic voting system and a “telephone bridge” for communications. Another mock meeting will follow on March 17, and councilmembers and staff will telework on March 19.
“We want to be prepared for anything that may cause disruptions to our daily activities and access to City Hall,” Moore said in the press release. “The mock meetings and designated telework day will give us the opportunity to gauge our procedures, train our staff, and resolve any technical issues to ensure there is continuity in our operations in the event of an emergency.”
City of Brookhaven
At a March 10 Brookhaven City Council meeting, Mayor John Ernst said no major changes are planned yet while the city monitors the pandemic.
Referencing a British World War II poster that said “keep calm and carry on,” Ernst told attendees the city government does not need to make any operational changes at present, but will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health “to rapidly put into place a plan to protect citizens and staff should the threat become imminent.”
The city’s staff “is prepared to test resources for working from home in the event that it becomes necessary,” Ernst added. “We will be very diligent about this, like everyone out there, and we’ll carry on.”
The city has a major annual event coming up, the Cherry Blossom Festival on March 28 and 29, which draws thousands to hear live music – this year from such bands as Better Than Ezra and Rachel Platten.
City of Dunwoody
As of March 11, the city of Dunwoody had not canceled any public meetings, according to spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher. That includes Mayor Lynn Deutsch’s “State of the City” event on March 12.
“But we want you to know that if you are feeling ill or uneasy about gatherings, please stay home,” Boettcher added in a written statement. “We plan to record the event and share it online on Friday, so you won’t miss the message. For those attending, we are encouraging smiles and discouraging personal contact.”
The city is also asking people scheduled for a hearing in Municipal Court to reschedule by calling ahead if they feel sick or “have a chronic condition that makes you vulnerable.”
In terms of other physical preparations, “We are cleaning city buildings and park areas more frequently,” Boettcher said.
Sandy Springs and City Springs
The city of Sandy Springs operates City Springs, a multiuse civic center that includes City Hall, two theaters, event spaces and a public park. City spokesperson Sharon Kraun did not answer questions about attendance impacts, but said the city is preparing for the coronavirus.
“We have taken precautionary steps to help ensure a safe environment for staff and visitors within our buildings,” Kraun said. “We’ve made changes in our cleaning protocols and added procedural changes to help protect our first responders. The City has emergency protocols in place to ensure continuity of operations should pandemic activity result in the closure of community activities.”
The City Springs Theatre Company, an independent organization, is a prominent user of City Springs and its Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. The group is currently staging the play “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” there through March 15.
“Although we have had some questions regarding COVID-19, our ticket sales and attendance numbers are good,” said Brandt Blocker, the theater company’s executive and artistic director. “At this time, we will follow the guidance of the city of Sandy Springs; and, as long as the facility is open, we will continue with our performances.”
Atlanta History Center
The Atlanta History Center, a prominent museum on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, is continuing with most events, but has postponed a new festival called Craftsoul that was scheduled for April 4.
“In light of growing concerns about Coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided that this is not the moment to launch a new annual program, always a challenge even in the best of times,” said History Center spokesperson Howard Pousner in an email. “We also of course believe it is important to put the well-being of our guests, artists, vendors, staff and volunteers first.”
The Buckhead Theatre, a prominent historic venue operated by Live Nation at 3110 Roswell Road, is continuing with shows while taking special precautions, according to its website.
“The safety of our artists, fans and staff is always our top priority and planned for accordingly,” the website said. “We encourage those who are sick to stay home, and remind everyone coming to our venues to wash their hands regularly with soap and water and use hand sanitizer.”
Steps taken at the theater and other Live Nation venues include: extra hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the venue; additional signage about basic hygiene; providing condiments in individual packages instead of hand-pump dispensers; allowing guests to bring disposable wipes and hand sanitizer inside; giving janitorial staff disinfectants and wipes for immediate cleanups; and “increased frequency of cleaning routines and disinfection of high-touch areas.”
Spruill Center for the Arts
The Spruill Center for the Arts in Dunwoody is seeing extra cleaning and preparing for possible closure at a city-owned facility on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road where it holds classes.
“The Spruill Center for the Arts facility is cleaned several times a day (an increase from once a day) by the City of Dunwoody and then again each night after classes conclude,” said Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner in an emailed noticed. “All restrooms facilities are thoroughly cleaned as are common surfaces such as door knobs, handrails, classroom furniture, etc. We are doing everything possible to ensure a clean, safe environment for our students.”
Mothner said the Spruill Center is following general and industry-specific guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus. “In the event that the Spruill Center is forced to close as a result of the coronavirus and our students are unable to attend the classes that they have registered for, we will make all attempts to reschedule classes, and if that is not possible we will refund the class fees for those missed classes,” he wrote. “While we hope that this measure does not become necessary, the well-being of our students and community comes first for us.”
Note: The day after this story was published, Oglethorpe announced it is cancelling in-person classes.
Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven provided an extensive update about its coronavirus preparations in a March 11 website post. The university said it has no plans to cancel events or suspend in-person classes as some other colleges and universities have done, but is prepared to do so if necessary. The university also said it has no confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. The university said it was “in touch” with all students, faculty and staff who traveled abroad during Spring Break and confirmed that none of them went to countries for which the CDC requires a 14-day quarantine due to widespread COVID-19. Those countries currently include China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.
Residence halls were cleaned and sanitized over Spring Break, the university said, and similar cleaning precautions are being taken across the campus. “Special focus is being given to areas where large public events take place, such as the Conant Performing Arts Center,” the university said. The dining service operator is using tighter sanitation methods.
“We are also making plans for the possibility that we need to suspend in-person classes and events for a period of time,” the university said, adding that faculty met March 11 to discuss online classes. “Classes will continue to meet on campus as long as it is safe to do so.”
–John Ruch, Hannah Greco, Kevin C. Madigan and Dyana Bagby
Updates: This story has been updated with information the Spruill Center for the Arts and Oglethorpe University.