“When COVID hit, there was no playbook for us mayors to turn to. We had to figure it out in real-time."
“When COVID hit, there was no playbook for us mayors to turn to. We had to figure it out in real-time. We have been working together as a community, all hands on deck, to get through it. That's one of the beautiful things about rural communities like Forrest City. When times are tough, we find a way to get it done and we pull together and help each other. Our local newspaper and some businesses even teamed up to put signs all over town saying “We’re All In This Together.” And that's what we're doing in this unique 2020.
I'm in my second year of my first term as mayor of Forrest City, so there was a lot for me to learn even before the pandemic struck. When it first hit the U.S. in areas like New York, I figured it was going to be about three or four weeks before it affected us down here in Arkansas. We spent that time preparing, knowing it could completely overwhelm our healthcare system.
I realized one of the big issues in our area was communication, especially on the local level.
In our rural community, we’re pleased that people still read the local newspaper, listen to the radio talk shows, and follow community events on social media. The biggest issue was how to reach the most vulnerable members of our community, the elderly, the low income individuals and special needs. That most vulnerable portion of our community still can only be reached door to door or through something that comes into their mailboxes. Everyone gets a water bill, so we would do inserts that contained information about COVID and flattening the curve. It was important for this information to come from trusted sources.
One of our key messages has been ‘pay attention to what's happening locally.’ I was on the radio, two or three times a week. in the newspaper once a week and on social media just making sure the messages came from here and addressed local needs. Because if you turn on the TV, everything is politicized so much that you have people in a panic. So, the key was continuing to keep the communication lines open from local leadership about what's happening locally.
In the beginning, the focus was to flatten the curve because we figured this thing was getting ready to come in and wipe everything out. But what we saw transforming was that people were starting to do business and go about their days in a different way. So the curve was flattened. And I truly believe because of the work of our leadership between the city, county, school district, and our local task force, it wasn’t as bad when it got here. People were really taking a lot of precautions and we did a lot of testing. I mean currently, and I’m gonna just knock on wood, we're still in single digits of deaths here in St. Francis County. And that's truly a blessing, especially with the federal prison in our county.
But this is not a sprint. It’s going to be a marathon, and we're just going to have to learn how to continue to live our lives, but live it in a safe manner.” -- Mayor Cedric Williams, Forrest City, #Arkansas