By Deb Malewski
— On March 16, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order putting restrictions on restaurants, bars, casinos, food courts, coffeehouses and other places of public accommodation offering food or beverages for on-premise consumption. The order went into effect at 3 p.m. on the 16th and was to last until Monday, March 30 at noon.
These businesses can still offer drive-up services and delivery, and many local restaurants are gearing up for busier take-out service. Community advocates are encouraging the public to support their local establishments by taking advantage of delivery and carry-out options. Grocery stores, food pantries, drug stores, health care facilities are exempt from this order.
With seniors at greater risk of COVID-19 complications, they are a particularly vulnerable population. But both the Jean Kline Senior Center in Eaton Rapids and the Eaton Area Senior Center in Charlotte are closed and will tentatively re-open when the schools re-open in April.
The Tri-County Office on Aging is suspending its AARP tax preparation programs, and the congregate senior dining sites are closed. However, arrangements can be made to provide food to clients. While staff are suspending in-home visits to minimize exposure, they will maintain contact with clients by phone. Meals on Wheels will continue with no interruptions. Staff is available for information and assistance with local programs.
The main office for the Tri-County Office on Aging (TCOA) can be reached by phone at 517-887-1440 or 800-405-9141. The phone numbers for Eaton County’s Meals on Wheels are 517-541-2330 or 866-541-5444 (toll-free). The 24-hour crisis number is 517-483-7205. More information is available on the TCOA website at tcoa.org.
Helping Hands food pantry in Charlotte will continue to serve the community, with some modifications. Anyone sick is encouraged to stay home. Clients must sign in outside the building and will be given a number. They must wait in their car until their order has been completed. Their food will be brought out to them in a cart, which the client must load into their vehicle. Carts will be brought in by staff to be disinfected. The pantry is working on educating both their volunteers and staff on how to remain safe in this situation. Cleaning practices are done more frequently.
Most school districts in Eaton County are offering free meals for children 18 years of age and younger. Letters regarding food distribution sites and hours went out to district parents over the weekend. Information is available on each district’s website, and local schools’ Facebook pages also have information. Some schools are also offering low-cost adult meals. In most cases, children do not have to be enrolled in the school to receive the meals and can be home-schooled, online schooled, in preschool or even younger.
Some area teachers, through Facebook, have offered to help parents needing assistance with school assignments or if more resources are needed. For example, Lockwood Elementary teachers in Eaton Rapids, along with principal Jason Zeller, are making videos of themselves reading books.
While some schools are not requiring students to participate in online schoolwork, some teachers have prepared optional activities. Check each school district’s Facebook page and website for more information.
CharlotteRising has started a “Downtown Window iSpy” game on Facebook, as an activity that allows people to get outside while still following social distancing guidelines. See the “CharlotteRising” Facebook page for more information.
For more information on the COVID-19 outbreak, residents can contact the state’s COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136. It is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 7 days a week. The Barry-Eaton District Health Department urges all residents to call ahead to their preferred health care facility before seeking out any COVID-19-related treatment.
Editor Carla Bumstead contributed to this report.