Even before Worthington's first two positive cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were confirmed March 25, things on the ground had been moving at lightning speed to mitigate the spread of the virus.

On March 16, Worthington City Council gave City Manager Matt Greeson greater authority and money – an increase to Greeson's contingency funds by $100,000 and the expenditure of another $100,000 to help pay employees affected by facility closures – to address the coronavirus pandemic on a local basis.

By March 18, all city facilities had closed, and most employees were working remotely, though emergency services and critical personnel still were available.

On March 22, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton issued a stay-at-home order until Monday, April 6; DeWine also ordered public playgrounds to close.

On March 23, Greeson declared a state of emergency in the city.

City officials have provided frequent updates at worthington.org/1938/current-situation-updates and worthington.org/1937/coronavirus-COVID-19 about the pandemic, including after Greeson's declaration.

"In order to be prepared and responsive to the evolving crisis and have the logistical and legal tools needed to assure the continuity of city services, City Manager Matt Greeson has issued a proclamation declaring a state of civil emergency in the city of Worthington effective immediately," the website said. "The proclamation follows a public-health emergency declaration by Worthington's health agency, Columbus Public Health, as well as a state of emergency in the state of Ohio as declared by the governor, and a national emergency declared by the president of the United States.

"Worthington's codified ordinances provide that the city manager can proclaim a civil emergency in order to protect the life and property of the citizens of Worthington. The proclamation authorizes city department and division directors to modify staffing assignments and duties as becomes necessary and authorizes emergency purchases essential to the continuation of services to all Worthington citizens and businesses.

"The proclamation further directs all citizens to comply with emergency orders and directs city employees to exercise due diligence in their duties during the emergency. The proclamation remains in effect for one month, unless it is extended, modified or earlier terminated by the city manager or a majority vote of City Council."

The announcement of the emergency declaration specified that all essential government agencies, services and businesses would continue to serve the community.

The state of emergency has made one council member publicly suggest a potential change in city code when the pandemic abates.

Council member David Robinson, who was part of the 6-0 vote March 16 to give Greeson more authority, said he supports the city manager's additional responsibilities, which "will allow more effective and efficient management of personnel," and he believes it will be carried out responsibly.

Still, Robinson said, he is concerned that "extraordinary powers are assumed that suspend normal, legal protocol on the exercise of power."

Both on his blog in a March 24 post and during an interview with ThisWeek, Robinson said when council next reconvenes – the next meeting is scheduled April 6 – he will advocate that council "update and amend our city code related to declaring – and ending – a state of emergency."

"As a matter of principle, considering all future possible scenarios, we ought to ensure there are appropriate checks to power granted to any one person," Robinson said. "To me, the key provision would be an automatic sunset clause requiring council's affirmation of an emergency state."

Greeson said March 27 the city's experiences during the pandemic would help it "refine" future actions.

"We should regularly review our city code in order to incorporate best practices, particularly in the area of emergency management," Greeson said. "This current emergency is unprecedented, and we will consider what we learn through this experience to refine our code and emergency-management practices.

"Right now, our primary focus is on limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and I appreciate City Council's actions in support of this effort."

Council President Bonnie Michael said March 26 she would not address Robinson's comments directly because she had not read his blog post.

But she said, "I don't think we want to have an emergency state longer than we need to."

Meanwhile, the city has been supporting the March 22 state order, including by issuing a March 26 announcement reiterating that all local playgrounds were closed.

Signs are posted and caution tape now surrounds playground equipment to discourage use, and parents have been asked to keep children off the playground equipment, the city said.

All fields are closed, including baseball and softball, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse; basketball courts are closed, too, and goal rims have been removed or disabled to no longer allow use as a result of large gatherings of people in violation of social distancing-mandates, the city said.

The city also shut down the pickleball courts at Olentangy Parklands as a result of large gatherings of people in violation of social-distancing mandates, said city spokesperson Anne Brown. The city has locked the gates and posted signs, Brown said.

The skate park, Godown Dog Park, tennis courts and community gardens are open and remain under observation, Brown said.

However, like DeWine in his daily press conferences, the city's March 26 release also encouraged residents to engage in a variety of outdoor activities, as long as they allow for recommended social-distancing practices.

Schools update

Worthington Schools students began remote learning March 24; buildings have been closed since the end of the day March 13.

"It's definitely early, we're just a couple of days in," district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda said March 26. "Everybody's doing what they can. We have families who are working really hard to keep their kids engaged. There are teachers who are creating dynamic ways to be in touch with their families."

Gnezda also said "a lot of classrooms are keeping in touch with the Zoom app," a web-based video-conferencing platform.

As with the city, the district had announced March 23 that all turf and tracks were closed until further notice. School playgrounds and buildings were off limits, too, per state mandates.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary