CASA GRANDE — The mayor of Casa Grande did not call for a closure of businesses in town at Wednesday night’s special meeting to officially declare a state of emergency in the city because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mayor Craig McFarland did ask that residents continue to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on the virus such as hand washing and keeping a safe distance from other people.
The meeting was live-streamed on Facebook, local TV channel 11 and on the city’s website. The Facebook livestream at one point had more than 400 viewers.
Phoenix, Tucson and other cities have ordered bars and restaurants closed except for to-go service. Many in Casa Grande have done that voluntarily.
The emergency declaration allows the city to apply for federal grants and reimbursement for funds used to fight the virus. It also allows local businesses and individuals to apply for federal emergency funding or special small business loan programs.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” McFarland said.
Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Navarro Fitzgibbons asked if a dollar amount had been fixed yet to the federal aid.
City Manager Larry Rains said a dollar amount has not been fixed yet and usually the federal government reimburses local governments after the emergency. His office is asking all city staff to keep track of expenses related to the emergency.
“The resolution also gives the mayor more flexibility in responding to emergencies within the city limits, which includes creating proclamations that may direct city staff to take certain actions, such as closing city buildings to the public, said City Attorney Brett Wallace.
The city has already closed most of its buildings to the public including its libraries and recreation centers. The city’s senior center has limited hours for residents to pick up meals through its home-bound meal program for seniors.
Council members Donna McBride and Dick Powell asked about how the city was getting the information out to residents.
McFarland said the resolution calling for a state of emergency, any proclamations and any information on small business loan programs, federal assistance for families or information on the virus would be on the city’s website under a specific COVID-19 tag. The city would also disseminate information through its social media accounts.
“This is one of the most frightening things that has happened to anyone alive right now,” Powell said. “It has brought a lot of people together to work on this. People are thinking more about what’s good for the community than for themselves.”
It’s also hitting local businesses hard, Powell said. He had spoken to several small business owners who were struggling before the virus hit. He urged residents to order take-out or use the drive-thru at local residents.
“This is the most nervous I have ever been about a meeting, since I don’t know when,” Councilman Matt Herman said.
He said the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce is working on ways to help local businesses as well.
“We’ll get through this together, farther apart, but together,” he said.
McFarland said he had been in contact through a series of conference calls with the White House, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the Pinal County Emergency Management team.
He described several bills that are moving through the U.S. Congress that are designed to give residents sick or family medical leave, provide financial assistance to businesses, provide free testing for the virus to people who are underinsured or have no insurance and more.
McFarland also announced that all hospitals in the state would start a “no visitor” policy for all patients immediately and Ducey had asked hospitals to cancel all non-emergency surgeries. The federal government is also sending additional masks, gloves and other protective gear to Pinal County.
He also urged residents not to call 911 if they think they have the virus. Instead residents should call their doctor or an urgent care facility and describe their symptoms to see if they should come in for testing.
McFarland also reported that U.S. residents could expect to see the number of people testing positive for the virus to dramatically increase in the next three days. On the conference call with the White House, the CDC announced that it had a large backlog of samples waiting to be tested and that it had opened testing up to private companies to do.
But residents can also expect that number to normalize sometime next week as that backlog is diminished and the real number of people infected with the virus is revealed.
“We need to be vigilant for the next 15 days,” McFarland said of following CDC guidelines on social distance and hand washing. “I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to Casa Grande.”