Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. has directed the Clerk of Commission’s Office to prepare for the commission to meet in virtual sessions at the Jan. 11 committee meetings due to an increase of infections of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
“After meeting with healthcare professionals, I believe that our meeting scheduled for Tuesday should be conducted virtually,” Davis said in a Jan. 8 email to commissioners. “While it is clear that Covid-19 is not going away, how we respond in an effort to protect the health and welfare of one another is important.”
The commission returned to-in person public meetings on May 3, 2021 after months of conducting public business via Zoom.
Not everyone is happy with the decision to go virtual.
District 3 Commissioner Catherine McKnight sent an email of her own stating that she will be in chambers with her laptop if need be.
“The Mayor just got back from Qatar where he posed in photos with no face mask, and now he is trying to put our meetings back to virtual. It just shows weakness. What type of message is this sending to the private sector?” Mcknight said, adding, “What’s next? Is he going to cancel the Martin Luther King Jr. parade?”
McKnight noted that masks are required in chambers, hand sanitizer is readily available and there are plexiglass shields on the dais for added protection.
However, District 6 Commission Ben Hasan disagrees with McKnight and says there is a very serious reason the mayor opted to return to virtual session for the Jan. 11 meetings.
District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson announced last week that he had tested positive for COVID mere days after the Jan. 4 commission meeting.
“There were five of us, including Jordan, in the car together. We rode to the meeting and back together. This is just for one meeting, and it is for all of our safety,” Hasan said.
Hasan also stated that if the commissioners get sick and cannot form a quorum, there will be no meetings at all.
“We are not only looking out for ourselves, but also the city attorney, city administrator and the clerk’s staff. I feel this is a necessary response,” Hasan said.
COVID-19 infections continue to surge nationwide with the Associated Press reporting that the United States recorded more than 650,000 new COVID-19 cases last week.
According to Rebecca Sylvester, communications director for University Health Care System, University Hospital was treating 120 patients for COVID-19 on Jan.7 The Augusta location of University Hospital has requested four National Guardsmen to help with the increased traffic, she said.
“We have increased our open dedicated COVID-19 cohort units to five because of the increased volume. We continue to encourage people to not come to the Emergency Department unless there is a true emergency. Mild-to-moderate cold and flu-like symptoms aren’t considered an emergency for most, nor is the possibility of COVID-19 exposure. We are only testing for COVID-19 if the patient is experiencing symptoms,” Sylvester said in an email statement.