EATON — The Preble County Commissioners called an emergency meeting on Friday, March 13, to discuss the county’s contingency plan.
Commissioner President Denise Robertson started by explaining they called the meeting to discuss what the board could do in an emergency situation. She added, they had stacks of documentation they were provided that they hadn’t had the chance to review as of yet.
According to Robertson, Judge Jenifer Overmyer was working on a list of county employees who need assistance with childcare with school being cancelled for three weeks. They were also considering utilizing teenagers off school to help watch the younger children.
Robertson then read a letter from Preble County Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell. The letter details various “safeguards” the department was suggesting to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The following were covered in the letter:
•All customers will enter the agency through the main lobby doors. The OhioMeansJobs and Child Support door will be locked to the public.
•Customers wishing to apply for SNAP/Medicaid/OWF or report changes will be asked to do so online, by phone, or by paper application. There will not be any face to face interviews. Resources will be available in the lobby for customers to use to apply for services.
•Customers wishing to access OhioMeansJobs-Preble County services will be able to do this online. Newsletters and tip sheets will be available in the lobby.
•Child Support administrative hearings will be conducted by phone. You will be given instructions by mail on steps that will need to be taken for the hearing to take place.
•Customers will be able to apply for emergency assistance by phone to assist with utilities, shelter costs, etc.
•Those required for the work program to receive their benefits are excused until further notice.
•Children Services and Adult Protective Services will continue to investigate reports of abuse and neglect and will respond accordingly. They will have some field safety steps to follow to assist in keeping everyone safe.
•Children Services will conduct face-to-face visits with all children in the custody of the agency to ensure safety.
•All out of county travel, training and conferences for staff has been canceled.
The letter also laid out procedures for staff on how to handle potential illness, including sick leave and vacation time usage.
According to Robertson, the letter also asks the commissioners if they would approve usage of sick or vacation time for employees who need to care for their children while school is cancelled.
“I think directing everyone to the front where there is a barrier seems like a very reasonable thing to do. How do we want to handle employees who potentially need to stay home with their kids?” Robertson asked.
Commissioner Rodney Creech said he wanted to “lean on” the Preble County Public Health to make any major decisions regarding their emergency plan.
“I feel like it should be business as usual, unless there is an issue. I don’t think we should knee jerk to things that are going on. [We should] lean on our health professionals,” he said. “I think business as usual and if the epidemic happens, let’s today talk about a plan, but I think we need to take all this into consideration and plan accordingly, but not take action until we have an issue. Again, let the health department make the call and we just follow their direction.”
Commissioner Chris Day said he met with Commissioner Erik Balster, who indicated “there was not much they could do.” There is no available medication for COVID-19 and it won’t be available until next spring.
“He basically said there is not a whole lot they can do at this point. They don’t have the resources — they can’t test, that has to be done at the doctor’s office and the doctors don’t have enough of the test kits to do what they need,” Day said.
He agreed with Creech that it should be “business as usual,” but asked all offices to identify their essential services.
Creech added, if they did have to “close” the courthouse, it could still be open to employees.
“The only thing we couldn’t do is have meetings, technically, if the courthouse is closed. I did check with [Civil Assistant Prosecutor Eric Marit] on that. It wouldn’t be an open to the public meeting. That is something where we may need to set a special time if we do have to have a meeting,” Creech said.
Day agreed, they could open for a certain period of time to conduct business.
Robertson suggested reading the provided information and discussing the situation further during the next regular meeting, to be held on Monday, March 16.
“We need a plan that we will implement if things progress in a negative way,” she said. “I think the worse we can do is panic.”
She added, “If you’re sick, stay home. I don’t know what our policies are, but we will figure out, if you’re sick and you don’t have sick time, we will figure something out, but people should not be coming to work sick.”
The commissioners also discussed child care plans and potential for county employees who need services with the cancellation of school for three weeks.
“That is a very inconvenient thing for people who have kids in school,” Robertson said. “It is a very real issue for parents who have to work.”
Creech added, there have been talks of having teenagers watch younger children in the back of 1808 Cafe with Preble County Art Association (PCAA) even offering its services for art projects.
“I just want our employees to know child care should be the least of their worries, because we’re going to help them with that, because that is a big topic,” he said.
The commissioners resolved to do additional research and discuss further the following Monday.
According to Robertson, any suggestions should be sent to Commission Clerk Kim Keller so the county can develop a plan unique to them that works for all.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH