Coronavirus concerns keep courthouse closed for now

Steve Lyon

Washington County commissioners on Monday said the courthouse will remain closed to the public for at least another week, and likely until the governor’s statewide stay-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus  is withdrawn or expires.
 Commissioners have reviewed the county’s coronavirus precautions every Monday for the past month with department heads and elected officials.
 The courthouse closure has been extended to align with Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order in effect until the end of April.
 At the urging of public health officials, the governer initially issued the order on March 25 for three weeks. It was extended on April 15 to the end of the month.
 Commissioner Kirk Chandler said there are still enough confirmed coronavirus cases in the region to warrant continued precautions to protect employees.
 While the courthouse will stay closed, Sheriff Matt Thomas said he plans to open the sheriff’s office up for business. All visitors will be screened when they enter the building.
 Thomas said the closure of county buildings didn’t really help because his department and employees have to interact constantly with the public. There are attorneys visiting clients at the jail and daily VIN inspections and brand inspections.
 People were coming and going in and out of the justice building whether the front door was locked or not, he said.
 “We have contact with the public on a daily basis. Continuing to shut down doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us,” he said.
 If the number of local coronavirus cases was larger it might be a different situation, he said.
 One confirmed case of coronavirus was identified in the county on April 2 by state health officials and the number has not gone up since.
 Anybody that goes back in the jail is screened for coronavirus symptoms. All new arrests also are screened before they are booked into the jail. Visitors to the jail to speak to inmates use a videoconferencing system, Thomas said.
 The courthouse and county departments are still staffed and the public can call or email for assistance. There is a locked dropbox on the steps of the courthouse and a second one at the magistrate court that people can use to pay fines or for paperwork that cannot be done over the phone.
 Clerk Donna Atwood said her office has been mailing out absentee ballot request forms and voter registration cards. Members of the public can call a department to have someone pick up something they placed in a dropbox at the courthouse.
 Commissioner Nate Marvin said he suggested that a table could be set up in front of the courthouse to allow the public to do business with the county that can’t be done over the phone or email but not allow people into the courthouse.
 Weekly Monday commission meetings have been held via videoconferencing. The public can observe the meetings via the internet.
 Commissioners previously said they will try to keep their weekly meeting short and limit the agenda items to what is necessary for county functions.
 The county’s trash transfer sites in Weiser and Midvale will remain open for public use, but the hours have been reduced.

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