By Marla Ogletree

Charlton has received another confirmed case of COVID-19, the second total for the county. The state of Georgia, including Charlton, is now under a shelter-in-place (SIP) order until Monday, April 13. With all of the temporary changes, community leaders are left enforcing important decisions by the state and federal government officials for the well being of the community.

Many of the major enforcements must come from the county office itself. Charlton County Administrator Hampton Raulerson has spent a lot of time on conference calls discussing the best courses of action.

“We?re just following guidelines set by the federal and state officials,” stated Raulerson.

For now, operations of county offices are still continuing services, but are requesting appointments be made first. If there is a document needing to be received by personnel in a timely manner, there is a drop box located outside for material.

“We’re encouraging citizens to follow the order until things change,” he said.

The local court offices have also been affected by the ever-changing times. While the offices themselves are not shutting down operations, they have changed to a safer way of handling day-to-day tasks. Before entering, citizens will find a table with sanitizer and pens outside the door with a sign giving instructions to call the appropriate number (whether Clerk of Court or Probate/Magistrate). The pens are there for those needing to fill out or sign forms. When the call is made, further instructions will be given. Personnel at the courts will still maintain normal duties and will help in whatever is needed.

“Everybody’s business is important and we don?t want to stop them,” said Clerk of Superior Court Wendy Whitaker-Lee.

On a larger scale, jury trials (other than those affecting health, safety, liberty, or civil cases) have been cancelled. 

“We’re here,” said Whitaker-Lee, “Even though it’s limited, we’ll get everything they need.”

In times of crisis like the one the country is facing, law enforcement becomes even more crucial, but local officials say there is no need for alarm.

“There really haven’t been any changes,” said Folkston Police Chief Wesley Green, “We’re encouraging officers to sanitize, to always be careful, and keep safety first.”

The Folkston Police Department and Charlton County Sheriff’s Office will continue to add patrols in an effort to protect the safety of all residents but are encouraging its officers to use extra caution when it comes to interaction.

“All officers have gloves and sanitizer,” said CCSO Chief Deputy Clay Burnsed, “We’re still answering calls.”

As for those in the holding facilities, the CCSO is taking proactive measures to protect citizens in custody.

“One case can be devastating,” said Lieutenant Mike King, “We want to limit the liability.”

The Sheriff’s Office has closed its front lobby. In the foyer (between the doors) there is a phone with a list of instructions to follow in order to gain access to the facility. The CCSO is also looking into video conferencing to limit the cost of traveling, protect the safety of and limit exposure to inmates, officers, and court officials. So far, the area has not seen an influx in law breaking.

Chief Green feels, “If anything, the community has come together. People have been kinder and more helpful. In times of crisis your true faith is shown.”

To help keep the officers, EMS, and firefighters at a lower risk of exposure, dispatch has been required to do a pre-screen with the caller for fever, coughing, or other symptoms. Visitors to the facilities have also been banned. 

“Anyone who comes to the building needing help is asked to go back to his or her car and call 911. Then we can come out,” said Charlton Rescue Fire Chief C.L. Lewis.

EMA/EMS and Fire Department personnel are taking extra cautions to not only protect themselves, but those they serve.

EMA/EMS Director Bruce Young stated, ?We?re taking our temps every eight hours. We record them and send them to the hospital in Camden.?

Due to the shelter-in-place order, Governor Kemp has closed all Georgia schools for the remainder of the year. The plan is to hopefully begin school again in August.

?I am so appreciative of all the hard work our educators and staff members have demonstrated over the last few weeks.ˇ Our teachers have learned to work in a different environment, printed hundred of packets for home delivery or pick-up all while continuing to provideˇassistance to everyone as needed,? said Charlton County Superintendent Dr. John Lairsey.

Staff and students were heartbroken to hear the news and became concerned for the future, especially the seniors.

?We will continue to communicateˇas much as possibleˇfor the remainder of the school year.ˇ This week is Spring Break and we are asking all of our staff members to enjoy this time while sheltering in place. We want the Senior Class of 2020 to know how hearts are broken for them.ˇ We will do everything in our power to make sure we celebrate your achievements and have a formal graduation ceremony as soon as we can safely do so,? he shared.

Parents and students have expressed concern for what the new year will hold for returning students. However, Dr. Lairsey assures citizens he and the Board or Education are committed to working through the challenges ahead.

?Once we do return to school in August, we know our challenges will still be with us.ˇWe know very difficult days lie ahead as it relates to the budget process, and attempting to make up for the losses of instructional time.ˇˇI want the parents of students of Charlton County to know, we miss you and we look forward to next school year,? he stated.

In the coming days, citizens are to remain home and limit travelling to only the most essential trips, such as for groceries, drive-thru or pick-up orders from restaurants, drive-thru bank transactions, or medical visits (to doctors or pharmacies).