Wapello County Courthouse

The Wapello County Board of Supervisors decided to open the Wapello County Courthouse June 1.

OTTUMWA — County supervisors decided Thursday to reopen the courthouse to the public on June 1.

Supervisor Wayne Huit said other county supervisors were already reopening their courthouses to the public. He said it was time the Wapello County Courthouse did the same thing.

Supervisor Jerry Parker agreed it was time to reopen, but Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond had some concerns.

“I think given what we’re seeing specifically in our county and maybe we’re a bit unique from some of the other counties but we’re seeing quite a bit more strenuous cases. I think we should take a little harder look at a few things before we make that decision,” Richmond said.

Richmond asked Huit if the supervisors from other counties discussed mitigation plans or cleaning procedures for reopening their doors. Huit said no. Checking temperatures and signs of COVID-19 wasn’t being done either, Huit said.

Richmond recommended the supervisors wait a few more weeks before reopening because the county is “not in the recovery phases.”

“Here our numbers continue to increase, our hospitalizations continue to increase which is actually a more important metric to us,” Richmond said. “We have 23 hospitalized currently. At our health care coalition meeting last night, the hospital reported that they’ll move two patients out into a bigger hospital and then two more right back in. That’s the trend we’re seeing this past week.

“I guess the point of all that discussion is it’s pretty widespread,” Richmond added, “and it’s continuing to spread and our goal in this is to flatten the curve. It’s getting worse, not better, in that regard. I am concerned about that. I think in a conversation about opening public offices we should maybe do a couple more steps before we open the flood gates.”

Parker didn’t see a need to wait to reopen the courthouse in a few weeks, since the courthouse “has minimal traffic compared to everything else that has opened up.”

“So us waiting a little longer to open up is going to be so minimal if any as far as making it more unsafe with everything else being open by June,” Parker said.

Parker said departments continue to practice social distancing and sanitization and other precautions. He said he is confident courthouse employees will continue the procedures even as they open the doors to the public. “I just expect them to use common sense with cleaning, things like that,” he said.

Wapello County Recorder Lisa Kent said she wouldn’t feel comfortable reopening her doors to the public unless they were provided the proper protection. Her staff, she said, doesn’t feel comfortable with reopening the doors with “the rate of infection still going on.”

“I don’t feel as a manager I should put my employees at risk,” Kent said.

Wapello County Treasurer Laurie Fountain said in reopening her doors she would limit how many customers could come in at once. Kent asked the supervisors if each office will have a screening process or if individual employees can get the option for pursuing the process.

“Well I think we need to have the same list of the same questions being asked,” Supervisor Brian Morgan said in response to Kent’s question. Richmond said he would work with Kent on the possibility of doing screenings.

Morgan suggested to Richmond that he provide a standard set of questions and cleaning procedures for each department. Parker and Huit agreed. Parker said he’s confident in the reopening.

“Everybody’s idea of being safe is different,” Parker said. “If we put up barriers, some offices will easily say, ‘I need more barriers or I need more cleaning.’ We have to kind of strike a medium. We didn’t jump ahead of all the other counties, but the others around us are doing it.

“I think if we waited two weeks we’d still have some of the same questions,” Parker added. “If we waited a month, we’ll still have some of the same questions at that point. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, let’s go with it and we’ll adjust to it.’ I think we’re at that point.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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