I met with Mayor Ronnie and Holly Hollman, City of Athens Communications Specialist and Grant Coordinator, as they came in straight from an update with the Emergency Management Association. They had been taking a look back as well as ahead, and discussed the fact that we as a community had faced natural disasters in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, faced them together, and our community had been strengthened. They were upbeat that we would get through this as well, but were careful to mention that what is different today is the unknown. “When a tornado hits, it hits, and then we get to dealing with the aftermath,” said the mayor. He then added, “You can’t see, touch, or feel this. It’s a different kind of storm, but Athens-Limestone County is up to dealing with it.” Holly added, “Work together to get through it together.” That pretty much sums up our responsibilities as Athenians, I think.
On Tuesday morning, they heard from Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and were encouraged by his steady, reasoned optimism. There was nothing in his press conference that hadn’t already been said, such as keeping the 6-foot rule of social distancing, and especially in counties like Jefferson, to stay at home except for grocery shopping. Everything would be re-evaluated in a week by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Dr. Harris expressed concern for kids, families, and the elderly, and Governor Ivey said, “This too shall pass.”
In Athens, parking spots had been designated for pick-up at restaurants, and public gatherings were restricted to no more than 25. For now, a balance is being struck between “business as usual” and things that are “mission critical.” “It’s a situation that is ever-evolving,” said the mayor, “and we are going to get through it.” Besides being a Vietnam veteran, Mayor Ronnie was on the Governor’s Task Force in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has been appointed to be a Point of Contact on Governor Ivey’s Task Force on COVID-19.
Continuing on the discussion of getting through this uncertain time well, the mayor talked about being proactive as well as buying responsibly. “Go by the CDC regulations,” he said. The craziness of hoarding toilet paper came up, contrasted with the great need for reaching out to your neighbors, the elderly, and the vulnerable. He said with firmness, “Encourage each other!” Churches are in the “25-or-less” category, and a lot of local congregations are gearing up for live-streaming for the first time.
As someone who has a background in business and finance, the mayor was concerned about the fact that local business owners are going to more than likely take a serious hit, and it’s possible that some may never recover. As a small business owner, I appreciated his concern. I do expect Athens Now to weather the storm, but I also know that there is no guarantee of anything but eternity. The mayor and Holly had to gear up for another briefing, and I asked him, “What is your greatest concern right now?” He answered, “Communication. Just making sure that nothing slips through the cracks because of a lack of communication.” We had time to quickly pray, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner