OTTUMWA — County supervisors are working on contingency plans in case the COVID-19 virus hits county departments.
“It might be so severe that some of our departments have no employees, that’s where our continuity of government plans comes in,” Supervisor Jerry Parker said. “We have to assume that it’s going to happen. If we over plan and we take these precautions and we didn’t need to — it didn’t hurt a thing.”
“Our job is to provide services to the public,” Parker added, “and I think this continuity of government plan is going to show that the supervisors and our other elected officials want to do that and make sure that what we’re doing is in the best interest of the public.”
Parker is working with Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond. They are going to institute an expanded cleaning and sanitizing effort for each department. Every worker will clean their own workspace.
Richmond and the supervisors are advising employees to maintain a safe distance of 10 feet and not attend large committee meetings unless they are absolutely necessary. Parker encourages workers to “attend meetings by phone.”
Departments are pondering whether to limit public attendance.
Parker met with departments last week to tap into what their essential functions are and who is in control of their department. If the head of the division can’t be at work in person, Parker said it is necessary to assign a person who could be in charge. If an entire office cannot work, then Parker said the supervisors have to figure out who could take on temporary roles.
“The recorder’s office — most of their things could not be done from home, then we list our other options,” Parker said. “If the roads crew is shut down we can get a contractor to go fix a temporary fix on the bridge or blade the roads. This is not a cure-all, but it’s going to give us all an opportunity to see who all else we need to turn to. This is flexible.”
County departments are not the only ones who need to put plans in place. Richmond is figuring out how to work with the county public health department since “virtual is not an option when they have to physically be present to take care of patients.”
“What we’re doing in that world is community-wide planning,” Richmond said, “to figure out how we are going to set up operations to screen people and keep a mass influx from coming to the emergency room. They need to reserve the services of the hospital for the most sick and that’s going to be a problem nation-wide if we don’t ... utilize our clinics to do the basic screening and take care of the folks that are in the 80 percentile that can handle this illness.”
“Then there’s that 20 percent population who are the most at risk,” Richmond added, “the over-60 crowd … those are the people who we’re doing this for.”
The public health information, Richmond said, is changing hour by hour rather than daily. He encouraged residents to get updates through the county emergency management website https://wapelloready.org/current-news/ and through the Facebook page. He recommends the three common procedures: social distancing, sanitization of surfaces and staying home if sick.
“I encourage people to not panic, use their heads, follow the guidance and ask questions if needed,” he said.
Sheriff Don Phillips is also working on a plan. The sheriff’s department will also sanitize thoroughly, check on deputies’ health and encourage the workers to practice social distance. The doors to the administrative portion of the building will be locked, but Phillips said residents can call dispatch on the phone available at the front of the building. As for the jail, visitations are suspended, but Phillips encourages “family to communicate by telephone with their loved ones in jail.”
The supervisors at this time are not discontinuing meetings.