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North Charleston declares State of Emergency amid coronavirus outbreak

North Charleston City Hall Wide.jpg (copy) (copy)

North Charleston City Hall Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

North Charleston City Council declared a state of emergency at a special meeting Monday as the municipality aims to address concerns over the coronavirus spread. 

The move gives the mayor the power to make emergency decisions without convening council. It also gives the city the power to continue to pay employees, Mayor Keith Summey said Monday.

The city made no decision on whether to limit public gatherings for local businesses as other municipalities have done. Spokesman Ryan Johnson said that they would do so if a mandate came down from the governor.

"We only encourage people to use social distancing," Johnson said.

Due to Gov. Henry McMaster's order Sunday to close all public schools and colleges until March 31, several city employees have taken off work to care for children.

As the city has done in other emergency situations, employees who have to miss work due to impacts of the virus will continue to be paid.

Others who'll have to work during the outbreak will receive incentives. Hourly employees working through Mar. 31 will receive an additional $250 per week, and salaried workers will gain extra PTO days.

"We're trying to do what we think is right by those employees," Summey said.

The city has canceled all public meetings for the rest of the month.

Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals meetings have been canceled through April 6. Applicants will be notified that the Public Safety Committee meeting on March 19 has been canceled.

All events at the North Charleston Coliseum, Performing Arts Center, and Convention Center are canceled through the end of the month with most shows rescheduled to a later date, the city said in a release.

North Charleston gyms and senior centers are closed, and recreational programs are suspended until further notice. The North Charleston Fire Museum is also closed until further notice.

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Riverfront Park is closed and park events will be rescheduled.

Other city parks are open, but the city is encouraging gatherings to be limited to 50 persons or less, Johnson said.

Courts are only open to bond hearings, which will take place at 9 a.m. only. Bond paperwork must be turned in by 7 a.m. to be heard the same day. All other court cases are to be rescheduled and written confirmation of the new court dates and times will be mailed to all case parties.

All Cultural Arts facilities are closed, and all school performances are suspended. North Charleston Arts Fest and the Children's Festival are canceled.

Mayor Keith Summey said the city is operating much like it does under a Hurricane Watch, the difference being that city offices are still open. 

Residents can get business permits and pay business license fees at City Hall, but expect delays due to limited staffing. Calls received after 9 a.m. will be handled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Permitting hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and limited inspections will be done 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Departments are operating with a limited number of persons, as several employees with children took off from work, the mayor said. Capable employees are encouraged use telecommuting and flexible scheduling. 

Public safety departments, including police, fire and sanitation, are functioning normally.

"We trying to stay as operational as we can," Summey said.

The city has also opened two hotlines that residents can call with virus-related questions and concerns.

Those numbers are 843-740-5883 and 843-740-5887. The lines are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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