Park County government is still weighing what to do with its 191 employees and facilities under the growing COVID-19 pandemic response.
At a Park County commissioner meeting Tuesday, the county announced it will make a decision on closing the courthouse, and an employee pandemic sick leave policy, in the next 48 hours.
The pay plan will determine which employees will be eligible for paid time off due to COVID-19 related sickness.
“We’ve got our employees in mind,” said commissioner Jake Fulkerson. “We’re in uncharted waters right now. The only way we’re going to get through this is if we all work together.”
Per Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations, all employees who are feeling ill at this time should stay at home. But only people who exhibit serious symptoms will actually be tested for the coronavirus, which leaves a massive grey area for those employees who only show mild symptoms. Park County Clerk Colleen Renner said she currently has an employee who is not sick, but has communicated she does not feel comfortable coming to work at this time.
Commissioner Dossie Overfield said the county will have to give its employees the benefit of the doubt.
“Is it going to be abused? Probably,” said Dr. Aaron Billin, health officer for Park County.
At the meeting held Tuesday, about 35 people filled the room. Under President Donald Trump’s message delivered Monday, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently discouraged.
It appears at least some level of closure at the courthouse is a matter of if, not when. Fulkerson said five other counties also met recently to consider reducing their operations.
“Why are we not moving toward reducing exposure right now?” questioned commissioner Lee Livingston.
Fulkerson said he was not sure what would be trigger a full closure of the courthouse.
“If we send 80% of the staff home would they be paid? Does it count against their health insurance?” he posed.
Still hanging in the air is whether the courthouse will be closed to only the public, or all employees.
For now, the commissioners and Public Health Nurse Bill Crampton have communicated that all nonessential doors and areas should be closed and remained unused by employees, and social distancing advised. Any doors that are left open must be handicap accessible.
“Let’s take this serious and try to protect everybody,” Livingston said. “If we can do some little things we’ve done something.”
Public-access closures could soon be extended to whole departments that are determined nonessential for serving the general public.
These directions were extended to building and grounds superintendent Mike Garza, to pass along to his custodial staff for cleaning purposes, ordered to focus solely on deep cleaning high-traffic areas of the county buildings.
Garza, who spoke during the Tuesday meeting, said his department is having a hard time acquiring cleaning supplies from its wholesale distributor at this time. Luckily, he said the county does still have 100-150 gallons of bleach. He also said his department will likely shut down the Park County Fairgrounds.
The commissioners had informed elected officials and department heads last Friday they were looking for response plans to be delivered at their Tuesday meeting. Somewhere along the way that message was lost in translation.
“I don’t think the expectations were clearly communicated to them to have it ready,” Fulkerson said. “Some did and some didn’t.”
Brian Edwards, Park County engineer, appeared to be the only staff member to deliver a coronavirus plan in relation to operational guidelines.
His public works department plans to limit or restrict access to their offices and is advising employees who feel ill to stay home. Employees that have school-aged children will be given the option to stay at home if they cannot find a babysitter.
Edwards said the public works office typically receives 20-30 public visitors per day.
“We look forward to resuming regular operations as soon as possible upon receiving clearance from the Department of Public Health,” Edwards wrote in his plan.
The commissioners instructed the county’s departments to submit plans by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Another issue discussed at the meeting are the legal ramifications to shutting down the Park County court system. Bryan Skoric, county attorney, indicated the county cannot fully stop its court proceedings.
“There’s certain things that can’t shut down. We have timelines to see certain individuals who have been arrested,” Skoric said. “There’s timeframes on probation revocation hearings where we have to conduct those issues.”
But District Court Judge Bill Simpson, who said District Court staff is performing its own deep cleaning, will follow Wyoming Supreme Court guidelines, and communicated the county does have some flexibility when it comes to shutting down operations, including hosting virtual court hearings and who can enter the courtroom.
“Wyoming doesn’t have a statute of limitations on any criminal conduct,” he said. “You can dismiss (cases) without prejudice and refile it.”
Sheriff Scott Steward said the Detention Center has shut down prisoner visitation and outreach groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Bible studies.