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Fraser mayor issues state of emergency

Officials, businesses navigate through uncertainty of virus

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 23, 2020

FRASER — On March 17, Fraser Mayor Mike Carnagie signed a state of emergency as the coronavirus outbreak continues to leave cities and residents with more questions than answers.

The original signing was for a seven-day period, but Carnagie stated on March 18 that City Council approved to extend the duration to 90 days, past mid-June. It helps ensure that their being a small town is not overlooked in terms of equipment and supplies, he said.

“It allows us to call upon other resources with the state, county and federal government,” he said. “We’re always a part of the discussion as one of the cities that do that.”

On March 16, City Manager Wayne O’Neal said the city closed all of its municipal buildings to the public until April 6. That excludes city employees, who will continue working their regular hours.

Carnagie said last week it’s “business as usual” for those permits, although residents can alleviate the situation by filing permits online or sending envelopes via courier. At press time, the city was offering “hands-on” help.

Interim Public Safety Director Mike Pettyes said the spread of the virus has led to a “balancing act.” For example, adhering to local and state direction on protocol is important, such as perhaps sending one medical official to a scene rather than two.

“The largest change is we’re really trying to limit our exposure to citizens in general,” Pettyes said. “Obviously, we’re gonna come answer the calls. But self-initiated activities —stopping people with one headlight and minor traffic infractions — we’re trying to limit our interaction with citizens.”

Social distancing is something already taught at the police academy, Pettyes added, though that “reactionary alert” has been upgraded to a higher alert. The department has provided members with goggles, gloves and masks.

“It never hurts to be over-cautious. … Once you’ve been exposed, you’ve to go to self-quarantine yourself for 14 days,” he said. “That has some instant operational consequences.”

Uncertainty exists not just for Fraser, but many communities in relation to how long the outbreak will exist and how it will impact people, public safety and general services.

Carnagie said public meeting questionnaires, for meetings related to city council, special agenda items and the planning commission, have been administered so citizens can email virtual questions to and have them answered by officials who gather in person.

“(Social distancing is) very important because the transferring of it, because some people could be a carrier and not even know it and maybe expose it to a senior citizen or someone else with an underlying (condition),” Carnagie said.


Trepidation and the unknown

Travis Morse has owned and operated Morse’s ComicBook Stash, on Garfield Road, for the past three years. He is the lone employee, selling comics, figures and video games.

Whereas a variance normally occurs between in-store sales and online sales — Morse said online sales tend to increase around the Christmas season, and in-store sales in the summertime — he said March 18 that in-store sales and online sales had already taken a hit.

That has included online superstores like eBay, which Morse said has slowed down due to people being nervous about buying products due to the virus staying on surfaces for lengthy periods of time.

The 800-square-foot building averaged upwards of 100 people per day prior to the coronavirus. Now, he said traffic equates to about 20 customers per day. That includes a “regular” customer base consisting of children to people aged 60 and older.

“Everybody’s panicking, everybody’s buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and we really don’t see the customer base like we used to,” Morse said.

He predicted his business will eventually be temporarily closed due to what has happened to other businesses locally and nationwide. He said he can likely stay temporarily closed for one or two months, but anything beyond that number is “rough” and he will “have to play it by ear.”

“Not many people are looking for these kind of things when grocery shelves are bare and the world is (in) complete chaos,” he said. “People are scared and although video games and comics can get your mind off things for a certain amount of time, it doesn’t make the fear completely go away.

“People have been laid off of their jobs, people aren’t getting paid for leave and any monies that they have will go for the essentials for their own family — which leaves my partner and our own families hurting a bit. Not (many) sales are being made and it truly affects the business and our personal life. … It’s horrible all around, for all of us.”

Carnagie said city officials are relieving some restrictions on various, such as signage requirements that allow for businesses to advertise menus, hours, delivery options and carry-out information.

He implored for residents to continue to visit businesses that are still offering carry-out services, and tipping generously because it may be the only form of income for many people.

“It’s very important to keep our small businesses going and keeping people employed,” he said.

Councilman Michael Lesich said local government needs to “bend over backwards” when it comes to giving “good customer service and straight answers.” The sign ordinance is one example.

“I think the first thing (we have to do) is to look at rules that may make sense in normal times, but could stand to be relaxed during extraordinary times,” he said.

Lesich said dealing with this ongoing situation is part of the basic role of government, which involves setting and approving budgets that account for things like coronavirus — aspects of modern life that present never-before-seen uncertainty.

Curtailing programs and changing the way business is conducted at the governmental level is important. If employees became sick and had to be quarantined, it exacerbates the problem.

“I think we all have a sense of what’s going on but not sure when it stops, when it bottoms out,” Lesich said. “There’s a fear of the unknown. Nobody really knows where this is going, or how long it will last.”

Carnagie said that small businesses in town are encouraged to contact him, Lesich or Councilman David Winowiecki.