Courthouse visits set to change

Jason Ferguson
If you’re going to visit the Custer County Courthouse, prepare for changes at the entryway as the Custer County Commission works to eliminate further spread at the building after three county employees recently tested positive for COVID-19.
At a special commission meeting Monday morning, the commission unanimously voted to enact the Emergency Operations Command (EOC) recommendations for “level of action one,” which is for one to five positive cases for county employees.
That action level includes restricted access to  the courthouse and only the north door will be open to the public and employees, save for dispatch and sheriff’s office deputies. All other doors will be locked.
Those who come to the courthouse starting today will be greeted by a person who will take their temperature with a no-touch forehead thermometer and ask them questions about their health. Use of masks while in the building is strongly encouraged.
Those running a fever will not be allowed to come inside the building, just as those exhibiting too many symptoms will be denied access. County employees will take turns manning the checkpoint until the county can hire part-time staff to handle the screening.
The monitor will write down the person’s name who is coming into the building and will also note who is turned away. That document is not public, but will be kept by the county for tracing potential exposures should someone who visited the courthouse report they came down with COVID-19. County attorney Tracy Kelley said this does not violate any Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws.
“I feel, for the protection of employees and the public, taking temperatures isn’t too much trouble,” said commission chairman Jim Lintz.
Employees at the courthouse will be required to do a daily self-assessment including temperature, which some offices are already doing. They will be required to wear masks while in the hallways of the building and will self-quarantine if recommended to do so by a healthcare provider due to exposure, symptoms, etc. 
Flexibility will be allowed for department heads to determine if someone can work from home while under quarantine.
There will be departmental sheltering-in-place, which is already happening to an extent, and common areas of the building (meeting rooms, break room, etc.) will be used on a limited basis with required social distancing. County meetings can be attended virtually and the public is reminded and encouraged to use the dropbox outside the east doors in the parking lot of the building.
There will once again be limited access to the first floor of the courthouse and employees are to limit the number of people in a county vehicle at the same time. Finally, mail will be handled with masks and gloves on and will be handled by as few people as possible.
Of the three county employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, two have recovered and are back to work. The commission did not say who the employees are, nor what offices they work in.
Custer County emergency management director Mike Carter said Custer County now has community spread of the virus.
“We all knew we were going to have it,” he said. “It’s here. [The number of positive cases] seem to be going up on a regular basis.”
The library and county highway shop will continue to operate under the protocols they are already have in place. The library limits the number of people in the building at any one time, recommends mask use and its staff wears masks when interacting with patrons.
Upon announcing the positive tests, the county stated it has “initiated deep cleaning procedures and is taking appropriate countermeasures to deal with the current situation.”
If cases continue to rise among county employees, the commission will meet again to discuss ramping up protocols to the next level of action, which could include a shutdown of all buildings and cancelling/ closing non-essential services.

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