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Local government, businesses continue to adapt to assist public during crisis

Update:  COVID-19

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

While COVID-19 has upended business as usual, local companies are continuing to create ways to respect the social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines that can keep their employees and community safe while still serving customers. From curbside pickup to free delivery, they’re finding new ways to work with their customers.

“You have to be flexible and creative, “said Kenneth Harry of Butler Trading Post, a restaurant overlooking Watauga Lake, “especially in the foodservice industry.”

Another local business, Adams Pharmacy, a locally owned pharmacy, is now curbside, drive-thru, and delivery only until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We want our customers to know we take the COVID-19 threat seriously and have implemented measures to help counteract the spread of this virus” is the message shared on the company Facebook page. It is obvious that it is no longer business as usual at the Johnson County Courthouse, either. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is waiving its requirement that citizens appear in person to have a new photo taken through October 1, 2021. The waiver allows many customers with expiring licenses to renew online and not visit a center, risking exposure to illness. However, the state says non-US citizens with temporary driver licenses will still need to visit in person to renew their licenses upon the expiration of their current license.

According to provisions provided by the state of Tennessee under the governor’s executive order number 15, those with tags expiring between March 12, 2020, and May 18, 2020, won’t have to renew their tags until June 15, 2020. A similar extension is being provided to those with expiring driver’s licenses. Class A,B,C,D,P, and M drivers licenses along with ID Only identification cards, will now expire six months from their current expiration date. This extension is for those with a license that expires between the dates of March 12, 2020, and May 18, 2020.

Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor suggests contacting any county office before venturing out. “I continue to work with local and state health officials to monitor the spread of the virus and determine what steps county government can take to help slow the spread of the virus,” said Mayor Taylor, “and protect our citizens while still providing the essential services of government.” Visit http://www.johnsoncountytn.gov for information regarding to county offices change in hours and provisions they have put into place in response to the pandemic.

Mountain Electric Cooperative (MEC) has added an automated telephone payment system that will allow members to pay bills by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members may call toll-free 833-399-0814 to access this system directly or may call the Mountain City or Newland offices to access this system via the greeting message menu. The system allows payments by credit cards and e-checks. MEC has also announced the postponement of electric service disconnections for all residential customers, including customers that participate in the PrePay program, beginning April 1st through May 31st.

“We are suspending late fees for residential customers during this time also,” said an MEC spokesperson. “The energy cost that you owe will still accrue and be due. At the end of the postponement period, special payment arrangements will be available to pay off the accrued debt over a reasonable period. We encourage customers to make payments if able.”

MEC will continue to help non-residential members who have suffered a loss of income and cannot make their bill payments due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These members should contact their local MEC office to explain their situation. Assistance is considered on a case-by-case basis and will apply primarily to small businesses that can show a loss of income and inability to make bill payments.While most business lobbies remain closed, citizens are encouraged to utilize online, phone, and drive-thru services.

“As part of properly following Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order No. 23, Tennesseans should remain at home unless they are carrying out essential activities,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner and Tennessee State Fire Marshal Hodgen Mainda. “During our time at home, I urge my fellow Tennesseans to remember good fire safety habits in order to prevent a fire, which could further strain healthcare and emergency resources during this critical time. Additionally, I also remind everyone to practice good social distancing habits and good hygiene.”