Courthouse to reopen in stages

Steve Lyon

The Washington County courthouse will reopen in stages, starting with allowing the public to make appointments with county departments as soon as next Tuesday.
 Commissioners, elected officials and department supervisors on Monday discussed the best way to gradually reopen the courthouse.
 There is no firm date yet on when the courthouse will be fully open, and county officials suggested they will follow the governor’s reopening plan.
 The courthouse and other county buildings have been closed to the public since March 25 as a precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus. During that same week, commissioners approved a declaration of emergency to recoup any extraordinary expenses incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.
 Between now and next Tuesday, commissioners asked department heads and elected officials to put their safety precautions in place and begin to prepare for a phased-in reopening. Many departments in the courthouse plan to install sneeze guards at counters and issue facemasks to all employees. Guidelines on social distancing also will be followed.
 Emergency management director Tony Buthman said starting with appointments for a while would allow county departments to figure out what precautions work best to keep employees safe and avoid any exposure to the coronavirus.
 Going with appointments only also would limit the number of people that are in the courthouse at any one time. There was no clear idea of what sort of influx of people to expect in the courthouse when it is fully open to the public.
 Buthman said there needs to be extra diligence on sanitation in the courthouse, including door knobs and handrails. Specific bathrooms will be designated for public use. Departments are working on getting supplies like hand sanitizer and employees that handle cash or papers would get latex gloves.
 It was suggested that county departments collaborate on ordering supplies and do group orders. It was mentioned that much of what is needed as far as cleaning and disinfecting items is on backorder and suppliers are out of stock.
 The sheriff’s office opened last week to the public with no spike in the number of visitors and no major changes in procedures. It was business as usual for the department, Sheriff Matt Thomas said, with employees handling routine duties that involve public interaction like VIN and brand inspections and admitting attorneys to visit clients in jail.
 As far as safety precautions Thomas said all new arrests are screened for coronavirus symptoms before they are allowed in the jail.
 As the county moves into stages three and four in the reopening process, there may be additional guidelines put in place that limit the number of people that can be in the building at one time and in county offices. There also may be some markings put on the floor to keep six feet of social distancing and direct visitors on which way to go.
 At their weekly Monday meeting, commissioners will take up the building closures again and make sure plans are in place to allow the public to make appointments with departments in the courthouse.

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