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Emergency committee loosens restrictions on county employees

Taylor County officials continue to revise and amend their COVID-19 response as the situation evolves. At the same emergency committee meeting, members lifted the county employee travel ban, but encouraged people to keep practicing safety measures. Traveling with family was okayed, but high populace transit such as bus and airplane is still discouraged. As the situation progresses, the county is seeing more issues arise stemming from the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

A number of county employees were given permission to work from home after citing concerns of contracting the virus from co-workers, but were later spotted at numerous public locations not practicing social distancing and going against rules they agreed to follow, leading offi cials to rethink the legitimacy of the workers’ claimed worries. Sheriff Larry Woebbeking said since they “can’t dictate employees’ off-duty lives,” he suggests implementing work-at-home procedures as they’re needed rather than preemptive.

County health official Patty Krug said not much can be done to control exposure now that people are running around wherever they want and not following proper guidelines, and it makes little difference whether people stay in county or not.

“Right now we have two positives that we are aware of, but we’re starting to open up,” Krug said, referencing a softball game that occurred over the weekend with three-to-five hundred people in attendance. “If we have employees going to those types of things, what’s the difference between if their going to that versus going on vacation? We have people who are going to mass gatherings, out and about; exposure in our county has tremendously increased.”

They say it’s up to the individual to take responsibility for the contact and spread. Krug suggested that if someone does go on vacation, when they get back they should wear a face mask and self monitor for two weeks.

“If you have symptoms of COVID, or any type of communicable disease, you should not be coming in to work,” Krug said, underlining the importance of seeking medical attention before returning to a normal schedule.

While self-screening is of upmost importance, Krug said the county needs to be extra careful, as they’ve already had people come to them who exhibited symptoms of the virus.

“Within two weeks of suspending faceto- face meetings, we had this one woman who really wanted to come in and talk. We asked her all these questions over the phone [to determine if she or anyone in her family were sick] and eventually gave her permission to come in, and she brought a child who had a 103 degree temperature,” she said. “I just feel really strongly that we can’t always count on them telling you the correct information.”

Krug encouraged the use of infrared thermometers as an easy to use way to identify potential symptoms of the virus, and they need to work hard to keep their staff safe.

To ensure safety, the board passed a COVID-19 exposure health assessment policy, requiring workers to go over proper coronavirus policies with a supervisor, with an acknowledgment of completion to be kept on file.

The acquisition of plexiglass presents another issue for the county, as a shortage has left a number of employees vulnerable to COVID-19. Of those who do have a plexiglass barrier, some of the windows are meant only to keep intruders out, and are insufficient for the airborne virus. For example, a receptionist’s desk window has a hole right in the center where people would cough or sneeze. They are using a mask to cover the opening right now, but a more permanent solution would be beneficial.

County transport vehicles need to be fit with barriers to separate potentially sick individuals from drivers, and the plexiglass shortage is forcing the county to look at improvised measures. Krug suggested a combination face-mask and faceshield as a top option to consider.

County officials have been running into further problems with people not following proper guidelines. Commission on Aging director Nathanael Brown said the guidance he received from the state was to avoid all contact if possible, but there are people who continue to show up at the door and come in.

“It’s tough. We were doing the same limited access, but we talked about it in our committee and agreed we have to lock the doors. We have a big, red stop-sign; nobody stops,” he said. “We still have the sign up, and people come turn the handle and still wonder why the door isn’t opening.”

The elderly cliental Brown serves have proven themselves particularly stubborn when it comes to deciding whether to social distance or not, creating a predicament for the commission.

“Some people are really hunkered down, others are just going about their day,” Brown acknowledged. “But there’s really no reason to be inside the building. Anything we can do for them, we can do over the phone... I realize people like the social aspect of doing things face-to-face, but when our guidelines are ‘stay away from people’ it’s hard.”