An Open Letter from the Mayor and City Council of Oak Ridge on COVID-19

Looking around our community today, it is impossible to miss the impact of COVID-19. Schools are closed, restaurants are now drive-thru, some businesses are closed, and people are sheltered away from their friends.

That said, Our Community Is Continuing To Work.

Our school system, its food vendor, and volunteers are providing meals to 1,000 students a day. Teachers will continue to provide curriculum to all our students, Pre-K through 12 online. Our churches are ministering to the needs of their members and the community at large. We are all checking on the health of our neighbors, friends and families. Our hospitals, first responders, physicians and their staff are providing the highest quality of healthcare to all of us.

Prepared food is available from restaurants, our friends at grocery stores are working around the clock to restock their shelves, pharmacies have medicine, our gas stations are open, and packages and mail are being delivered.

Our Police Officers are patrolling our streets and our Fire Department is responding to your calls. Water and electric power are available at your home. In other words, our City Is Working.

Like you, we are closely watching the spread of the novel coronavirus across the United States and into East Tennessee. As we prepare to address the challenges the next few weeks will bring, we want you to understand the overall direction that City government is adopting in order to serve our community and protect you and your families.

We have developed four primary tenets that will guide our actions.

First and foremost, we are dedicated to maintaining the governmental services that you depend upon. All of our Departments have taken measures to maintain their ability to meet their mission. From the Police and Fire Department, to the electric lineman on the power pole, to the operators at our water plant, we take our duties seriously and our responsibilities personally.

City departments have modified reporting requirements, re-arranged shifts, established isolation and protection policies and taken a wide range of other steps to ensure that we have the manpower, equipment, and materials to continue to meet your needs and expectations.

We will not let our community down.

Our second priority is to help limit the spread of the infection while doing our jobs. We are actively following the guidelines of our County Health Departments, the State of Tennessee and the United States Centers for Disease Control. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, we urge you to stay home for all but essential trips, practice strict social distancing, limit groups to ten or less, and wash your hands with soap and water frequently.

Unfortunately, this means that we are limiting our contact with you, our citizens, and suspending activities in facilities where the spread of infection might occur. This includes closing the Municipal Building, Recreation Center, Library, Central Services Complex and the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter. It is imperative that we protect both the public and our employees from exposure whenever possible. We believe that we have taken the correct steps and instituted the right levels of protection to continue city services through this crisis.

Our third objective is to be flexible and supportive in supplying essential services. On March 23, City Council suspended termination of utility service for up to 90 days because of non-payment. We understand that many of our citizens have lost their jobs. So, we will work with you as we better understand your personal situations.

The good news is that other help is on the way. The state and federal government have taken aggressive measures to extend and enhance unemployment benefits and to provide direct stimulus dollars to those in need. It will take time for that help to arrive. We hope that by extending the time to pay utility bills, we can help you until those benefits arrive.

Our last focus is more long-term than the others. The City Council knows we must safeguard the long-term financial stability of City utilities so that we can provide services into the future. Everyone knows we must have a safe and healthy community.  

We are monitoring this crisis very closely and additional future action and sacrifice may be required from all of us. Please pay close attention to City of Oak Ridge social media, as well as local media, to be aware of any changes that can keep you – and your family – safe and healthy.

We will end as we started – Our Community Is Working. We are fighting a powerful and invisible enemy, but working together, we will prevail.  That is what Oak Ridgers do.

                                                                        Mayor Warren Gooch

                                                                        Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn, Jr.

                                                                        Councilmember Kelly Callison

                                                                        Councilmember Jim Dodson
                                                                        Councilmember Derrick Hammond

                                                                        Councilmember Chuck Hope

                                                                        Councilmember Ellen Smith