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Council makes in-person return

Suffolk City Council had another first Wednesday for its meeting — the first in which everyone in the chamber wore masks.

Some, but not all speakers, pulled down their masks when speaking during the meeting. The chamber had an additional podium for public speakers set back from the podium normally used, though city staff used the main podium.

It was the first meeting in which all of council was back in the same room and in which the public was allowed to be present since March 31, when council held an emergency meeting using social distancing measures. The measures were put into place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the March 31 meeting, members of the public were not allowed to sit in the first three rows of the council chamber for the duration of the nine-minute meeting, and blue tape marked the seats where people were allowed to sit.

At Wednesday’s meeting, yellow and black tape marked the seats in which the public were allowed to sit, while specific seats in the first three rows were set aside as reserved seats for staff and speakers giving presentations to council.

Council still has the option of holding virtual meetings, as it extended an emergency ordinance by 60 days.

The council’s last meeting without social distancing measures took place March 4.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Finance Director Tealen Hansen noted that the city has spent just over $443,000 for COVID-19-related needs. That includes $253,169 in overtime for public safety employees, $71,961 in restaurant community outreach, $68,740 for supplies — primarily personal protective equipment — and $49,201 in professional services such as disinfecting public buildings.

This is money that Hansen said would be applied to the city’s more than $10 million allotment in federal CARES Act money — money that she said must be spent by Dec. 30 — which includes:

  • $8 million in general assistance money through the coronavirus relief fund
  • $282,715 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as community development block grant money
  • $97,120 through the Department of Justice to be split among Suffolk Fire & Rescue, Suffolk Police, the city’s sheriff’s department and the Western Tidewater Regional Jail for personal protective equipment
  • $2.1 million for the city’s bus service in COVID-19 relief money from the Federal Transit Administration
  • $83,865 for EMS providers through the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hansen said the city has formed a workgroup among various departments to develop a spending plan for the money.

Council also heard from Western Tidewater Health District director Dr. Todd Wagner, who noted that both the state and region’s percent positivity rate has fallen, with the state around 11 percent and Western Tidewater at 3.6 percent.

He said the testing events downtown Friday and at Bennett’s Creek Park June 10 will be able to do 500 tests at each, and at another event Saturday, the department will test about 50 people with the Nansemond Indian Nation. So far, he said about 6,300 people have been tested in the district.