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How the Hall County extension office has maintained operations during the pandemic
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New Hall County Extension Agent Garrett Hibbs checks the soil sample drop box Tuesday, May 5, 2020, outside his office in Gainesville. The extension office at 734 E. Crescent Drive, Gainesville, has been closed to the public since March 23 in response to the pandemic, with plans to reopen May 18. - photo by Scott Rogers

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected routines and scheduling, but otherwise, it’s been business as usual for Hall County Cooperative Extension.

“While, for the most part teleworking, we've continued reaching out to Hall County farmers and producers to assess the impact of the virus on their farm workers, the economic impact on their production and offering assistance and research-based information to help them,” County Extension Agent Garrett Hibbs said.

Also, “we have continued to accept soil, water, and disease samples for diagnosis during this critical planting and growing season,” he said.

One concern that’s been raised nationally is the disease’s impact on producers and as a result, the availability of food, particularly meats, on grocery store shelves.

“We have been contacting producers around our county, getting them to fill out information on how consumers can still get their products,” said Hibbs, who has been on the job since Feb. 3.

He encouraged companies to contact the extension office for further guidance as needed.

Otherwise, agriculture-related businesses are staying busy, he said.

“People are still cutting hay right now, and it won't be long until summer, when people are harvesting more,” Hibbs said.

The extension office at 734 E. Crescent Drive, Gainesville, has been closed to the public since March 23 in response to the pandemic, with plans to reopen May 18. Also, all extension-related, in-person programs and events through May 31 have been canceled or postponed. 

Residents can bring in soil samples, putting them in a drop box at the office. And by calling ahead first, water samples can be brought Tuesday mornings to the office and handed to an office employee.

“We’ve had a lot of people calling in,” Hibbs said. “The phone is ringing 8-5 everyday, as usual, and we’re working through emails. It’s great we have this technology … so we can continue to consult with people.”

He said he can visit people in person, with social distancing in mind.

 We've continued individual consultations with homeowners and producers on a variety of topics related to plant health, livestock, insect control, crops, pond health and other environmental issues,” Hibbs said.

Otherwise, “gardening has been a healthy activity to do while sheltering in place,” he said. “It’s a great way to get exercise, fresh air, and to provide fresh vegetables, as well as an aesthetically pleasing landscape — all while reducing exposure to the virus.”

Carin Booth, the office’s family and consumer sciences agent, has been working to develop and share information with the public on health and safety steps to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Hibbs said.

“We've also been sharing fact sheets and videos on our Facebook page to inform consumers on how to shop and store food safely or best practices for using food delivery services,” he said. “If people are beginning to go out to restaurants or stores, it's imperative they do so safely and we can help give them some useful tips for doing so,” he said.

The Facebook page also includes tips on how to” use your stimulus check wisely and prioritizing your saving,” Hibbs said.

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