LIBERTY — Isolated rural areas were warned it was only a matter of time before people there experienced the perils of coronavirus, and it appears that moment is happening now for Amite County.
Supervisors extended a county emergency declaration order, set to expire at the end of May, until June 25 and further restricted access to the courthouse Tuesday after several local officials and the former mayor of Liberty fell sick with the coronavirus.
Amite County had been relatively unaffected by the outbreak, but the sense of urgency about the crisis was significantly heightened among supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday. Health officials have identified 53 infections in the county and one death, a resident of a nursing home, since March 11.
Board of supervisors president Jackie Whittington recently contracted the coronavirus along with an immediate family member, but is doing well in his recovery, supervisors learned. He is still performing his duties but from a distance, instructing district employees from the cab of his pickup truck.
Former Liberty mayor and Southern Herald newspaper owner Ricky Stratton said he tested positive for coronavirus about two weeks ago and isolated himself in his home for 14 days.
He said he finally broke his fever for a period of 72 hours and that doctors said he’d recovered from the illness.
Chancery Clerk Jana Causey said an employee in her office tested positive for coronavirus in recent days and that those who work there are effectively isolating themselves from other courthouse offices.
Causey said the employee felt ill and had low energy levels for several days before spiking a fever and receiving her diagnosis. Causey and her deputy clerks sought testing after the revelation and all tested negative.
County constable and solid waste enforcement officer Murry Toney apparently took a two-week leave of absence after learning of Whittington’s diagnosis, despite not being ill himself, and supervisors questioned Tuesday why he would take the decision without first consulting members of the board. District 4 supervisor Butch Graves said he believes Toney is directing operations remotely.
Board attorney Reggie Jones warned supervisors that county election commissioners may complain about him after he requested they observe social distancing within the courthouse, noting that supervisors had closed the building to normal business.
Jones said Circuit Clerk Celeste Bell McIntyre asked the commissioners when they arrived not to meet in the court annex, a very small room with almost no reasonable chance of social distancing, and to instead meet in a larger space. Commissioners demanded entrance and took exception to Jones’ request.
Anyone with business at the chancery or circuit courts is asked to call ahead of time to determine if the matter could be handled remotely. Contact information for various county departments is listed on the east and west entrances to the courthouse, which are locked to the public.
In other business, supervisors:
• Approved an emergency declaration related to an April 23 tornado that caused damage throughout the county.
• Paid Burns, Cooley, Dennis Inc. $125 for concrete mix design testing for the bridge replacement project on Poole Lane.
• Paid William T. Williams $840, Gwendolyn Shuffield $2,310 and Robert Howell Jr. $1,410 for rights-of-way along Poole Lane needed for bridge construction.
• Hired George Blackmon as a part-time hopper for the solid waste department.
• Refunded Robert Ratliff $149, RMF Funding LLC $9,000, Longbranch Properties LLC $27, Dan. P Morgan $10, Favan Farms LLC $272, Sho LLC $1,582 and Douglas Pitre $5 due to erroneous tax sale assessments.
• Heard from Bobby McDaniel, who informed supervisors he’s canceled the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument event in Gillsburg scheduled for June 6.