Commissioners issue urgent COVID-19 memo

By Kelsey Kimbler -

PREBLE COUNTY — The Preble County Commissioners issued an urgent memorandum to all staff during their meeting on Wednesday, March 18.

The document reads, “We are issuing this Urgent Memorandum with a belief that we must all work together and do what we can to mitigate against the spread of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is spreading from person to person in the United States and other nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes the virus spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly eyes.

“Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19, for example healthcare workers, or household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live in, or have recently been in, an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. The CDC expects that widespread transmission of COVID- 19 will occur in the U.S. through community spread, and in the coming months most of the U.S. population may be exposed to this virus.

“People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions. Because the health and safety of our employees and our residents are among the County’s highest priorities, we strongly urge you to follow the CDC guidelines below to protect yourself and others from this virus:

•Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

•Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

•Avoid shaking hands.

•Stay home when you are sick.

•Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm or inner elbow.

•Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions.

•Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

•If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

•Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

“The safety and health of our employees, families, and the community we serve is a top priority. With the global concern about COVID-19 we understand each of us is inundated with information, and there are many uncertainties. Please know that Preble County is taking steps to provide a healthy and safe environment and asks that you do your part to limit interaction to reduce the likelihood of the spread of this infectious disease.

“The information is changing rapidly, and we will continue to provide updates and information to help you stay informed. Information helps all of us make decisions that protect our families and help us understand what role each of us plays in this situation. At this time the Preble County Health Dept. has said that they do not see a need to limit or close our offices. If this should change, we will notify everyone as soon as possible.

“The County will operate under all normal leave and workplace policies and as otherwise set forth in collective bargaining agreements, except as provided herein. Preble County will follow the Public Health Orders from the Ohio Health Director, Executive Orders issued by the Governor, or Public Health Orders from the Preble County Health Commissioner, in addition to abiding by all State and Federal employment laws.”

The documents continues to outline release from work/leave use, relaxation of sick leave policy, essential staff, closure of schools or daycare centers, telecommuting, alternative work schedules, customer protocol, work area and personal hygiene, social distancing, use of administrative leave, emergency leave, donation of leave, advance of leave, and alternative work arrangement policy and procedure.

Prior to accepting the document, the board called in representatives from all county offices to discuss actions to be taken to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the Preble County employees and residents.

Commission President Denise Robertson said they want to provide options for the various offices, but are leaving many decisions up to department heads on how they wish to proceed.

“We’re wanting you to use your own discretion on what benefits you,” she said.

Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell asked about discretionary leave, compensation, compensatory time, and other types of leave mentioned in the memorandum. She had concerns for her staff that don’t have vacation time because they’re new employees. Robertson responded to check the advanced leave section. They also discussed emergency leave.

Commissioner Chris Day said this was just for the short term and they could revisit as needed.

Commissioner Rodney Creech said they were looking for input on whether to close the courthouse to the public, individual offices close, or operate the courthouse by appointment only.

“Do we leave the doors open or close them, I don’t know,” he said.

Judge Jenifer Overmyer said her court has to remain open.

“There are certain hearings we have to hold,” she said. “This is important, but I think the big importance right now is to stop the spread of this.”

She had talked to Sheriff Mike Simpson about how to screen at the door to let people in the Courthouse. She suggested “checks and balances” including screening questions and taking temperature of visitors.

Health Commissioner Erik Balster said he had worked with Sheriff Simpson to put similar procedures into place at the jail. Balster also presented alcohol swabs and a temporal thermometer, explaining that they are low on the swabs. Balster said if an individual fails the screening questions, entry can be denied to that person.

The commissioners discussed who they would employ for that position, deciding to seek volunteers in the meantime before finding someone to hire for the job.

Hand sanitizer stations were also discussed, whether they should have those entering wash their hands or use sanitizer first. The board preferred to have sanitizer, but struggled to find any available. They decided to have those entering wash their hands in the bathroom as soon as they enter the historic building.

Balster informed the board that a mixture of aloevera and rubbing alcohol would be just as effective if they could not find hand sanitizer.

Civil Assistant Prosecutor Eric Marit questioned, “It seems like we have ideas on what to do, but not the materials to do it. Hand sanitizer stations throughout the courthouse, but no hand sanitizer to do it. Scanning at the door, but less than 100 swabs to [clean] the scanner. If we don’t limit access to the courthouse, we’re going to be out of that in an hour.”

He further suggested having offices designate people to set up appointments only and screening essential visitors, ultimately notifying the security guard at the front who should be entering.

Engineer Kyle Cross worried that if each offices had their own schedules there would still be too many people entering the courthouse.

Marit amended, it would be each office informing the front who needs to be here in a days time and anyone not on the list could not enter the courthouse.

Board of Elections Deputy Director Buffy Allison suggested limiting the hours the courthouse is open to the public. Concerns were shared by Auditor Lavon Wright that if hours were limited then employees could not meet insurance requirements on hours.

Commissioner Day asked if the department heads were comfortable with screenings at the door. Robertson asked if they wanted to do a 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. window, but those gathered replied they didn’t.

Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell asked additional questions about different types of leave as they apply to specific situations within her departments.

Commissioner Robertson said they would prefer people to use their vacation time first, if they’re not sick. However, they can always make case by case exceptions moving froward.

Sorrell said most of her employees don’t have 14 days of vacation and most people have more sick time than vacation time. Commissioner Clerk Kim Keller suggested using FMLA for specific situations which might apply, such as a worker with an immune compromised individual at home.

Robertson added that everything should be addressed in the memorandum, but it is her opinion if someone has a doctor’s note they can use their sick time.

Creech said, “The main thing is, we all work together, we’re on the same team, for the most part we all think alike and we know our employees. Common sense is going to play into this more than anything. I said it this morning, one of my biggest issues was having inconsistencies within offices.”

Robertson explained, the memorandum is Preble County’s standards, but department heads have discretion to make their own decisions.

By Kelsey Kimbler

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH