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County deals with threat of COVID-19

POMEROY–The Garfield County Commissioners (BOCC) and county employees discussed how to best handle County business as normally as possible while protecting staff and the public from the COVID-19 virus on March 16, 2020.

Commissioner Justin Dixon stated county employees should make public contacts by phone, internet or mail whenever practical, limit travel, attendance at meetings and stay home if sick. “We need to remember that we set a precedent in our community, and we don’t want to encourage panic,” Dixon said. “We also need to care for our elderly residents.” He speculated the Garfield County Jackpot Preview planned for April 4, 2020, at the fairgrounds will most likely be cancelled, and possibly the Spring Farming Days.

In the community, in addition to Gov. Jay Inslee’s order closing restaurants, (except for take-out orders or delivery), all recreational facilities, including gyms, will be closed. This includes meals and games at the Senior Center. Take-home meals will be available.

John Hirsch, Emergency Management Director, speculated there will be another small business disaster program offered next week, making small businesses eligible for low-interest loans, and Garfield County will be included.

The Census “Kick-off” planned for March 17, 2020, has been cancelled. Census workers will continue to place information on doors, and will follow up with those who do not respond. Garfield County Health Administrator Martha Lanman suggested postponement of events like the Easter Egg Hunt instead of canceling.

Prosecuting Attorney Matt Newburg said County department heads will have to make decisions as to what precautions are necessary for their own office and staff. District Court will limit cases heard and number of spectators allowed to attend. Newburg said department heads do have the ability to shut doors, use a drop box, or postpone some items. He also stated state laws requiring certain protocols for public meeting can be suspended during times of emergency. Newberg said his office will not allow walk-ins during this time. Dixon is concerned, however, that because elected officials are public servants, they should not lock out the public. He believes that everyone should take precautions to limit exposure, but they also should not encourage a sense of panic, stating “We have to maintain a level of business.”

“Our jobs are to provide a service to the public,” stated Commissioner Wynne McCabe. “We need to sanitize as much as possible. Our county is clean right now, but that can change daily.” McCabe said if any County employee feels uncomfortable about any situation involving serving the public, they should let the County Commissioners know.

Sheriff Drew Hyer said the outside entrance is blocked off to public traffic and use a screening process to allow people to be buzzed in. Visitors to those incarcerated at the jail are family only. Also, deputies are taking precautions by using masks, gloves and bibs to cover their clothes when answering calls where exposure risks may occur. Deputies will also be using gloves during traffic stops.

Emergency Management Director Hirsch addressed the issue of obtaining cleaning supplies to disinfect County offices. All orders must go through him or Health Administrator Lanman.

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