The College Park City Council discussed the city’s response to the nationwide coronavirus outbreak during its meeting Tuesday night.
The city has begun “preparing for the worst,” said District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir, referring to the possibility that council members themselves could have to self-quarantine, preventing the council from being able to meet in person.
In response to Prince George’s County encouraging residents to take precautionary health measures — such as avoiding meeting in large groups and postponing big events — the city council discussed meeting remotely and debated ways that the council members could still engage with residents should this have to happen.
“The most important concept is our ability to function when there’s important matters in front of us,” said District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan.
But currently, Brennan added, the “city’s ability to function is impeded by forces outside” of its control.
Not long before the meeting began, the University of Maryland announced that it would be canceling classes the week after spring break, from March 23 to March 29, and moving classes online after that until at least April 10.
In a campuswide email, the university asked that students who leave the area for spring break not return until after the university re-opens.
Because of this, in the next few weeks, Dan Alpert — student liaison to the council — said the city could see a major change.
“It’s going to be an unusual traffic flow in the area — unusual for the time of year,” Alpert said. “It could be more students in the area because they don’t have classes, or it could be less because everyone decided to go home.”
But even with the university’s classes on pause, District 3 Councilman John Rigg said the city’s government will still need to operate effectively.
“Legislative business of the city still needs to be accomplished,” Rigg said. “We value being able to be in the same room with each other, and being in the same room with the general public when under normal circumstances.”
At the end of discussion, city staff members said they would look into different technologies and softwares that would let the council hold meetings remotely for an extended period of time.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were three positive cases of COVID-19 in the county, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks confirmed in a press conference. There were also five confirmed cases in Montgomery County and one in Harford County as of Tuesday evening, according to a news release from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.
Earlier that day, Wojahn said, city officials had discussed the spreading virus with the county’s health department, and had also spoken with Prince George’s County Councilwoman Dannielle Glaros.
As cases continue to be confirmed in the area, the county’s health department is urging people to assume that the virus is already “in all of our communities,” Wojahn said.
“I’m sure there will be ongoing updated information about what’s happening with the coronavirus in the days and weeks to come,” Wojahn said. “But please everybody, just be safe out there.”