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County Commission holds emergency meeting for virus planning

By J.R. TIDWELL / Editor

The Chilton County Commission called an emergency meeting during the morning of March 16 in order to help develop a plan for dealing with issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission met with department heads under the county umbrella and asked for questions, concerns and comments about what each group had in mind for dealing with coronavirus concerns.

Chairman Joseph Parnell said the main goal would be to mitigate potential exposure of illness to county employees by limiting contact with customers and limiting services to only those that are deemed essential.

Parnell opened up the floor for discussion, and first to speak was Chilton County EMA Director Derrick Wright, who given his position has training in disease outbreak response.

Wright said the goal of the county will be to keep operations going while mitigating risk of exposure to county employees.

Wright stressed that the plan put in place by the Commission needed to be long-term.

“This is not a 14-day thing,” he said.

Revenue Commissioner Tim Little said that most counties were in the same boat as Chilton. Commissions across the state were in a meeting “just like us” to determine what to do.

He said the tag office was closed until after the meeting, and from there he would be looking for answers on what other counties and doing and what the state and Chilton County Commission suggest.

Chilton County E911 has already gone to its “catastrophic plan” by having dispatchers stay on site 24/7 and removing access to the building from anyone but personnel. A representative mentioned that if one dispatcher becomes infected with coronavirus and brings it into the building, 911 dispatch could be shut down, hence the early measures taken.

Probate Judge Jason Calhoun said that his court proceedings, other than emergencies that must be handled, have been postponed until April 16 or later.

Calhoun also said he put down lines of tape in the Probate office in order to help keep customers farther away from his employees so no one will lean on the counters at the windows and get too close.

He also suggested limiting access to people needing to renew licenses to only those who are expiring within 14 days of the current date in order to cut down on traffic at the courthouse.

Circuit Judges Chris Speaks and Sibley Reynolds have both suspended most hearings until April 16 or later, though cases that involve constitutional rights or protective services will still continue, as the former is required by law to occur within 72 hours of arrest.

Reynolds said all jury trials have been postponed until that date or later.

Both judges mentioned using computers and apps as ways of having meetings with individuals without needing to do so in person.

Sheriff John Sharon said using computers and apps was how most visits to jailhouse inmates were done now anyway.

He said he would cut down on the number of people allowed to visit the jail, utilize video calls and potentially suspend jail church services in order to help combat the spread of illness.

He said all inmates taken into the jail will be screened for symptoms of illness and cleaning will be “stepped up.”

Local election coordinator Glenn McGriff said the county will hold off on mailing out any ballots for the March 31 runoff election at this time. He said the Alabama Secretary of State’s office was discussing measures and could postpone the upcoming election until a later date.

Parnell addressed the courthouse cleaning staff, saying that the building “needs to smell like Clorox.”

Members of staff said they were actually low on supplies like disposable gloves and certain cleaners. The vendor that has the current contract with the county was said to be currently out of the supplies the courthouse staff needed.

Parnell asked county attorney Roger Bates if the staff could purchase needed supplies from other vendors during a time of emergency, to which Bates responded “yes, absolutely.”

So, the supplies will be purchased from any vendor in order to stock up during the declared emergency.

Chilton County Schools Safe Schools Coordinator Mickey Hardwick commented that CCS had a “pretty good stockpile” of the cleaning supplies the courthouse staff needs and could give them enough to get them through until more items can be ordered.

Commissioner Jimmie Hardee echoed Parnell in saying that the traffic through the courthouse needs to be limited, which he believes would be justified during a state of emergency.

Commissioner Joe Headley suggested posting updated service limitations at the courthouse door in order to keep people informed on who is allowed into the building, while courthouse security staff added that those limitations should also be placed on social media to get the word out.

A handout of procedures has been given to county employees that lists what actions to take during the coronavirus issue, including notifying HR if someone tests positive for the disease or has been in contact with another individual who tests positive.

Included in the handout was the statement from the Commission: “The county’s focus on a clean, hygienic workplace will continue. We have been and will continue to routinely clean frequently-touched surfaces …”

Parnell closed the meeting by saying all comments would be taken into consideration, and the Commission intends to have a concrete plan in place soon on what measures will be taken during the state of emergency, including closures, limitation of services to those deemed essential, limiting traffic at county buildings, etc.