County courthouses to remain on schedule with the exception of trials
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Board of Supervisors passed a sweeping closure of all county buildings to the public for four weeks effective 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in light of the recent community spread of the coronavirus.
The only exception to the rule is that aside from jury trials, all scheduled court proceedings at North and South Lee County courthouses will take place.
Board members Matt Pflug and Gary Folluo met with department heads on Monday afternoon to discuss the COVID-19 situation. Pflug made the motion to close the buildings on Tuesday morning at the North Lee County Office building.
Michele Ross, administrator for the Lee County Health Department said there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lee County.
“We don’t have a confirmed case in Lee county, but when we do Lee County Health Department is prepared to do case investigations,” she said.
“We do communicable disease follow-up investigations all the time. This won’t be any different other than we will protect ourselves if we have to have face-to-face encounters.”
Right now she said those investigations will be done over the phone and then LCHD will make decisions regarding close contacts.
She said the county will know when a case is confirmed, but no other details will be made available due to federal privacy laws.
Ross said health officials have been preparing for something like this for years.
“It’s new, it’s challenging, but we will get through this. We have an awesome response team in Lee County. We need to stick together and follow the important messages we’re getting out.”
Pflug said there was a lot of concern from the employees as to how the board was going to react to the situation, and what leadership the board will provide.
“I think with everything that Michele has presented today, we need to take a serious look at shutting the county government down,” Pflug said.
He later amended the statement to focus on shutting the buildings down, but continuing to provide what services the county would be capable of providing.
Board Chair Ron Fedler agreed.
“We have to make sure we are proactive so we don’t wait for something to happen, but we take action so something doesn’t happen,” Fedler said.
District Judge John Wright told the board that state judicial officials have suspended trials, but other court activities are still be conducted and district court staff will have to have access to those facilities.
Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said that scheduled court appearances will go on and people need to attend those scheduled hearings.
All supervisors were convinced that the county employees continue to be paid during the closure and some staff members will still be on hand. The public just won’t have physical access to staff.
Lee County Recorder Nancy Booten said residents need to explore all online options. She said eight counties have already closed access to county buildings and most are encouraging online services that are available.
“Check for any services that you can do online or questions that can be answered online,” Booten said. “Or call the office and we’ll let them know how to mail their request in for renewals, and what to do if they have a new registration because that’s different.”
Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann said options are limited at this point.
“There will be drop off boxes and there is mail. That’s all I can say, that’s all we can do,” Spann said.
“They can call if they need a PIN number to pay online. There is so much you can do online now. They can call us and we’ll walk them through it.”
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise also said there are online services for voter registration.
The board also voted to suspend sick leave policies for county employees temporarily, as well as voting to allow employees to access the county network in order to work from home. All votes were unanimous.
Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a state emergency disaster declaration Tuesday morning forcing the closure of all bars, health clubs, theaters, senior centers and other gathering places for four weeks. Restaurants are limited to carry-out and drive thru offerings only.
The order also extends expiration dates on many motor vehicle registration and licensing requirements for the four weeks.
“These are unprecedented times and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster. I have authorized all available state resources, supplies, equipment and materials to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Reynolds said Tuesday.
“The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”
The full text of the governor’s order can be read here: https://governor.iowa.gov/press-release/gov-reynolds-issues-a-state-of-public-health-disaster-emergency
Fort Madison Community Hospital
Fort Madison Community Hospital officials were in discussion to elevate restrictions to possibly close parts of the facility.
Angie Budnik, the community relations director at FMCH said more information will be coming out Tuesday about the hospital’s plans going forward.
She also said that the hospital is testing for the virus, but only according to strict guidelines provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health and U.S. Center for Disease Control.
“We can’t randomly test willy-nilly,” she said. “We have guidelines we have to follow from the IDPH and CDC. And we also have to respect our resources,” she said.
Fort Madison Food Pantry
The Fort Madison Food Pantry will remain open but has transitioned to drive up deliveries only.
All clients should bring their IDs as usual and plan to display them through their car window. Volunteers will continue meticulous cleaning of the site and follow government recommendations, according to Lin Cramer, president of the food pantry.
Community Action of Southeast Iowa
All Community Action Neighborhood Centers in Southeast Iowa are open and doing business as routinely as possible. However officials are asking that you call your local center to schedule an appointment and/or complete your application over the phone for services between the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST. When our lobbies are full, you will be asked to wait outside until assistance is available.
Iowa Workforce Development
Employees impacted by COVID-19 closures can and should apply for unemployment benefits online here: https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/file-claim-unemployment-insurance-benefits In order to comply with current recommended guidelines regarding reducing large gatherings, Iowa Workforce Development strongly encourages claimants to use the online filing system. If customers do not have online access, they can call the unemployment insurance customer service line at 1-866-239-0843 and staff can file your claim for you over the phone. For more information, visit www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov
Hancock County Sheriff’s Office
The Hancock County Sheriff’s office is suspending all in-house visitations effective Tuesday until further notice, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The office is also limiting public interaction in the lobby and encourages those needing assistance to call 217-357-2115.